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What Happens If You Don’t Hit Your Ground Rules Running?

A Topaz Sales Tale

Zenith Vinyls had an active sales department, including an eager and ambitious salesperson named Alex. Alex was known for his relentless pursuit of finding deals and an impressive track record of calls dialed. However, in his sales process, he often overlooked the fundamental aspect of establishing ground rules during his sales interactions, which usually negated all of his pre-call work and rarely resulted in a win.

On one of his usual ambitious mornings, Alex received an opportunity to speak with a high-profile client, Mr. Jacobs, the CEO of Prolific Enterprises. Seeing this as his big break, Alex prepared his presentation, which he loaded with industry jargon to impress Mr. Jacobs. As the meeting commenced, Alex, enthusiastic about showing expertise, launched straight into his pitch, bombarding Mr. Jacobs with facts, figures, and aggressive timelines.

Unfortunately, Alex had never felt comfortable setting ground rules, as he had learned in sales training, so he skipped this step and failed to establish essential rules for this meeting, such as setting a clear agenda, agreeing on the decision-making process, and asking to learn about Mr. Jacob’s communication style. As the presentation went on, he didn’t pause to gauge Mr. Jacobs’ reactions or seek his input. Instead, he assumed the client was interested in what he was sharing and understood the information, and Alex dove deeper into tell mode.

Mr. Jacobs, a seasoned businessman who preferred a more consultative and conversational sales approach, felt irritated and sidelined. The barrage of information and the one-sided conversation left him disinterested and annoyed with the waste of his time. He was looking for a solution that would cater to his specific needs and a partner who would listen and understand his problems, not just sell a product. Alex gave Mr. Jacobs no time or opportunity to express his wants.

As the meeting drew to a close, Alex, oblivious to his client’s growing disinterest, pushed for a commitment. Mr. Jacobs, amazed by Alex’s lack of awareness and feeling unheard and undervalued, declined the proposal with no explanation and ultimately went with a major competitor—a big blow for Alex.

Alex was devastated. He debriefed with his Sales Manager on where he had gone wrong and realized one critical piece he missed was not establishing a fundamental, crucial ground rule: mutual agreement to openly express with each other if the conversation or the solution presented ceased to make sense at any point and to stop the meeting. He had not permitted Mr. Jacobs or himself to interject or redirect the conversation if it was not meeting expectations or aligning with needs.

He realized how the missing ground rules had proved detrimental with this prospect and in every preceding conversation. Alex recalled that as he presented his solutions, Mr. Jacobs had remained silent, growing more detached as the presentation progressed. The atmosphere turned from hopeful anticipation to disinterested obligation, a shift Alex tried to rectify with more data but ended up losing control of the sales process instead. Not only did he fail to engage Mr. Jacobs in the conversation by setting a clear agenda and understanding and respecting his needs, but he also didn’t provide a space for constructive feedback or dissent. These oversights cost him a chance to learn during the interaction and possibly pivot his strategy to suit the client’s needs better and, ultimately, land the big deal.

Determined to learn from this hard lesson, Alex committed to never again overlooking the importance of establishing ground rules for open communication. He recalled from sales training that sales are not a monologue but a dialogue that thrives on active participation, mutual understanding, and the flexibility to adapt the conversation as needed, even if it meant ending it. By committing to integrating this learning into his approach, Alex improved his interactions and built more genuine relationships with his prospects, leading to better outcomes for all involved.

As a Topaz Buyer Facilitator, setting proper ground rules is pivotal to ensuring a productive and respectful sales interaction. Here are some pieces of advice to consider:

  • Establish Clear Objectives: Begin each meeting by clarifying the purpose and what both parties hope to achieve. This ensures that everyone is aligned from the start.
  • Agree on an Agenda: Outline the topics to be covered and the order of discussion. Ensure there is room for flexibility, but having a guide helps keep the conversation on track and productive.
  • Acknowledge Different Communication Styles: Understand and respect the client’s communication preferences. Some may prefer a more data-driven approach, while others might value stories and relatability. Adjust your communication style accordingly.
  • Create an Environment for Open Dialogue: Encourage questions and feedback throughout the conversation. This can be established by asking open-ended questions and pausing regularly to check for understanding and concerns.
  • Mutual Respect for Time: Ensure that both parties agree on the length of the meeting and stick to it. Respect for each other’s time demonstrates professionalism and helps keep the discussion concise and focused.
  • Establish Exit Criteria: Be clear about a successful meeting for both parties. Also, agree on what happens if the meeting isn’t going in the expected direction — how will either party communicate this, and what will be the steps to either get back on track or respectfully conclude the interaction?
  • Feedback Mechanism: Agree on how and when feedback will be given during and after the meeting. This can help refine strategies and approaches in real-time and future interactions.
  • Post-Meeting Action Steps: Conclude every meeting with a summary of decisions made, action items, and next steps. Ensure that both parties are in agreement with the documented outcomes.

By setting these ground rules, you can create a more effective, respectful, and mutually beneficial interaction focusing on understanding and meeting the client’s needs, leading to more successful outcomes.

Want help creating your ground rules? Contact us. We can help.

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