When Buyers Are Stuck In Ruts (Issue 808)

In which we are encouraged to move on when it’s clear that we should move on.

I will never forget one particular Thanksgiving, a number of years ago. My mother had reached the point where she didn’t want to and could not handle cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the family anymore. So, the four of us in my family and my mother-in-law traveled to visit my mother for Thanksgiving and we went out to dinner at a nearby inn, a lovely Victorian-themed bed and breakfast. Perfect for my mother since she was proudly born in in England  under the influence of the Victorian Era.

We were seated in the dining room, all of us with our menus. My mother sat at one end of the table and I sat, opposite her, at the other.

The server began taking orders to my immediate left and went clockwise around the table so that I would make my request last.


So, starting with my wife, to my left: turkey. Everyone after that: turkey. When it was my turn, I ordered salmon.

Grilled red fish steaks salmon on the grill pan

My mother’s head snapped up. “What?!!!!” All eyes at the table turned to her.

“Excuse me, Mom?”

The Queen, Victoria, herself, could not have asked her next question with more indignation: “What did you order? Fish?”

I nodded and then heard….

“You don’t order fish on Thanksgiving!!!!”… followed by inaudible Victorian mumbling at the other end of the table.

More recently, a friend put it this way: “You don’t veer off for Thanksgiving. With everything that’s changing, people like consistency on Thanksgiving. I can cook more or less whatever I want for Christmas, but for Thanksgiving my family expects turkey, bib lettuce salad with cranberries and my homemade cranberry salad dressing, corn, broccoli and cheese casserole, mashed potatoes, and baked potatoes.”

I suspect that not all families are quite so rigid about Thanksgiving and, it turns out, many are. In the ensuing years, no matter how many times and different ways I have suggested that we have fish for Thanksgiving dinner rather than turkey, the verdict in my family is the same. “You don’t order fish for Thanksgiving.” Even on those Thanksgivings when I have risked all by cooking fish, myself, evil eyeballs let me know that I wasn’t being a good team player.

Some people are like that. Some clients are like that. They have “their way.” They don’t order fish on Thanksgiving, they don’t use vendors other than a particular vendor, they don’t do things anyway other than one particular way, no matter what the results and, more or less, no matter what “others” (including us, as sales people) may think or demonstrate to them.

Good to find this out early! Asking a question like, “Over the years, how many different foods have you served for Thanksgiving dinner?” can dig out that answer fairly quickly. The parallel question would be, “Over the years, how many different ways have you tried to solve this problem?” Or “How many different partners or providers have you engaged to address the challenges you’re facing in your company?”

If the answer comes back, “we always have turkey,” maybe best to find more fertile ground for sales.

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