Find Ways to Say Yes (Issue 894)

In which we are reminded that part of our roles as sales professionals is to find ways to say “yes” when the “by the book” answer is, "no, we don’t do it that way.”

A delicatessen with proud German roots known for its root beer and its pea soup. 10:35 am on a quiet Tuesday morning. Sliding into one of the half dozen original-issue 1940s-style wooden booths along the far wall from the front door, I glanced around.

A couple of police officers sitting at a round table, enjoying breakfast. A family of four in a booth by the front window. And me.

Above eye level, hanging along the side walls, a mix of bright neon signs and faded, framed posters proclaiming German beers. I considered a beer for breakfast but then thought, “it’s a little early in the day for that,” and turned my attention to the menu.

On the left side, breakfast items (pancakes, sausage, bratwurst, etc.), Deli sandwiches, and soups, including the pea soup for which the restaurant is well known. The bottom of the menu page noted, “Breakfast served 7 AM to 11 AM.”

My waitress approached. “Good morning,” she chirped. “May I get you some coffee?”

“No, thank you and I would like breakfast. What are people crazy about here?”

“The combination breakfast,” she said. “It includes two eggs, bratwurst, hash browns or grits, toast, biscuits or muffins, and coffee, a small milk, or juice. It’s very popular here.”

I thought for a moment.

“That’s a bit much for me. How about a couple of poached eggs on dry rye toast with a bratwurst?”

“We don’t do poached eggs here. You know how it is: They take some time to cook and it doesn’t work for us when we’re really slammin’. So we don’t do poached eggs.”

I look around. Still just the family at the window, me, and the two police officers.

She followed my eyes. “Sir, I’m sorry, we don’t do poached eggs.”

“Okay,” I said. “Then I’ll have a bratwurst and a cup of the pea soup, please.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Sir. We don’t serve the pea soup until 11:00 AM.”

I looked up at the white, circular 1930s-style clock over the bar at the back of the restaurant. 10:46 AM.

Once again, she followed my eyes. “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t serve the pea soup until 11:00 AM.”

I sighed. No use arguing. I ordered the bratwurst and a bagel with cream cheese.

They arrived. I ate them. The bratwurst was quite good! So was the cream cheese. I finished them both at 11:03 AM. My waitress returned to the table.

Theatrically looking at the clock over the bar, I said, “I’d like to try the pea soup, now, please.”

“Certainly, sir,” and she returned to the table with a cup of the pea soup and a spoon.

I should’ve stopped with the cream cheese.

Never mind. I paid the bill, stepped to the street, and reminded myself never to go there again.

I understand the idea, “sell what we’ve got” followed by “one-off solutions reduce our margins and bollox up the back shop.” I get that. Every company has to draw the line somewhere about what they will or won’t do and at what prices.

And we, as sales people, need to decide: Do we say, “no, we don’t do it that way” and stick to our product listing and delivery standards or do we find a way to say, “yes,” perhaps by positioning our standard products and delivery methods so that our customers feel they win while we, at the same time, preserve our margins and don’t disrupt the back office?

What a difference my server could’ve made, for example, had she said, at 10:46 AM, “Yes, they are just putting the finishing touches on the pea soup so it’ll be perfect for the day, why don’t I start you off with something else, if you’d like, and I’ll bring the soup to you as soon as it’s ready. I’m guessing about another 10 minutes. How does that sound?”

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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