Eight Things To Do When You Enter A Buyer’s Office and Before You Leave It

When you enter a buyer’s office for the first time, here are some useful behaviors to discipline yourself to follow. They’ll help you understand the person, the environment, and your own actions, as well as calm you down if needed.

1. Look around.

What is the office like? Large or small? Is there comfortable seating or merely a desk and chairs? Are there mementoes, photos, and awards, or is the place institutional and sterile? Is it neat or does it look like the aftermath of a shipwreck? This will tell you a lot about the person with whom you’re meeting (assuming it’s the buyer’s personal office!).

2. Shake hands firmly and smile.

Press the hand you’re offered with equal pressure back, whether male or female. Smile when you repeat the other person’s name and your own. If the other person says, “I’m Jane Anderson,” it’s fine to say, “Nice to meet you, Jane.” But if she says, “I’m Dr. Anderson,” then your reply is, “Nice to meet you, Dr. Anderson.” If she says, “Dr. Joan Anderson,” reply with “Dr. Anderson” and see if she says, “Please call me Joan” or not. I always ask people to call me “Alan.”

3. Be seated quickly.

Don’t unpack as if you’re checking into a Ritz-Carlton. You should have left any coats, baggage, computer cases, and mining equipment with the secretary or the receptionist (or in your car or limo). Sit where indicated by your host, take out something with which to take notes, and start listening carefully. (Note: Don’t accept the offer of refreshments, unless you’ve just arrived from the Gobi Desert. Trying to balance coffee, or figure out where to place a tea bag, or wait for the assistant’s interruption, and so forth, just get in the way. You don’t go to a coffee shop to build business, and you don’t go to a business meeting for coffee.)

4. Follow the buyer’s lead.

There’s a huge difference among, “How can I help you today?” and “What can you do for me?” and “Tell me something about yourself and how you’ve come to me.” Answer what you’re asked, but briefly. Tell the buyer what the buyer needs to know, not everything that you know (“I was born in Madagascar….”) You’ve now been able to observe the office, your seating arrangements, body language, and opening conversation, all in about 60 seconds.

5. Take the initiative.

Once pleasantries are briefly exchanged (which could be 30 seconds or five minutes), say something like this: “Both of us appreciate the need to make the best use of our time, so why don’t we set a brief agenda? I have three items I’d like to discuss, and I’d like to hear what your expectations are, and then we can utilize our time accordingly. I think you said we have 45 minutes, is that still the case?” This exchange immediately establishes you as a peer and allows you to actually lead the discussion and avoid becoming a performing seal. Make sure you know what your minimum and maximum objectives are (min/max) for that meeting.

6. Take notes.

Don’t trust your memory, but be judicious. I’ve seen people write everything down as if they’re auditioning for a court reporter’s position. Just note the salient points for your purposes of exploring a potential partnership. I find this easiest to do with a pen and paper, not electronic pecking. Ask for clarification when needed, and paraphrase and summarize regularly.

7. Watch for changes in behavior or language.

The buyer is going to do one of only three things: Stay the same as when you arrived; become less cordial and communicative; become more cordial and communicative. You want the last. Make mid-course corrections by observing what, if any, changes are transpiring. “You seem more enthusiastic about this last point. Should I infer this is your top priority?”

8. Create definitive next steps.

Building trusting relationships takes time. But the time can be shortened if there are clear and agreed upon actions and dates. Never accept “Let me get back to you,” or “Call me in a couple of weeks,” or “I’ll need to get some more information for our next conversation.” Make definite times and dates while you’re sitting there.

Never overstay your time unless explicitly invited to do so and it’s necessary for your purposes. It’s always fine to leave early once the mission (min/max) has been accomplished.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

20 thoughts on “Eight Things To Do When You Enter A Buyer’s Office and Before You Leave It

  1. Great points, Alan, as always. One point. When someone says, “I’m Jane Anderson,” that is not permission to call her Jane. If the president call someone he can say “This is Barack Obama,” but that is not permission for the other person to call him Barack. If you’re a social peer and you know the code, you won’t do it. You may say, as you suggest, “You can call me Alan, may I call you Jane?”

  2. Thanks, but I respectfully disagree. If you say, “I’m Alan, may I call you Jane?” that’s a subordinated position. If you pronounce your name without an honorific (e.g., “professor”) I’m being given permission to use your first name.

    • Great and concise post, Alan, thank you!
      One point added from a German point of view: We do not use the first name of a person with whom we meet the first time. So, it is always “Guten Tag, Frau Schmidt”, not “Guten Tag, Jutta”, if you meet Jutta Schmidt for the first time.

  3. I detest being called “Al.” Only four people in history have done this: My late father-in-law, with whom I wasn’t going to argue; a guy who used to work for me; a former personal trainer; and my brother-in-law, who doesn’t seem to vaguely understand.

  4. Right on, Alan!

    I would respectfully add a 9th point. It is stolen from a friend of mine, Wayne Schulz.

    Always use the bathroom before you leave. How they treat their bathroom is almost always a great indicator of how they will treat you.

  5. Deadly serious.

    Recently, we had 2 manufacturing software prospects. Both were willing to spend $150K each for their projects. One has a bathroom that is a palace. The other…well let’s say that I’m not going to spend any time in there.

    Guess which project we took?

  6. That’s fine, but there is no correlation that I know of or can imagine. The buyer often has a private rest room. Are you going to ask to use it? What next, the cleanliness of the parking lot or the amount of dead plants? I would have taken both of those projects and suggested to one that they tidy up.

  7. I really think you have some obsession going on here. I publish a piece about what to do when you enter a new buyer’s office, and you feel compelled to attach something about bathrooms. That says more about you than the caliber of buyers I’ve done business with. This conversation is over, don’t post about this again.

  8. Ban me from the blog if you must but I’m posting a response.

    I’m not sure what my mistake was here. I’ve abided by your rules: no cursing, no self-promotion and I was actually adding value to the conversation. In the spirit of contrarianism, I offered a suggestion that I have found valuable (and humorous) over the years to assist with determining if this company/person is someone you want to do business with.

    We are all guests on your blog and you are our host. When I am hosting and a guest says or does something that I think is inappropriate then I may say to them “I’m confused by your statement and fine it a bit crass although I’m not sure if you really meant for it to be. I would appreciate it if you would please refrain from continuing on about that particular subject.”

    To react the way you did leads to fewer people wanting to interact on the blog out of fear that you will rebuke them like children. It’s counterproductive (unless your goal for the blog is to decrease readership and interaction).

    I know, it’s your blog and you run it however you see fit. However, I think the old adage ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’ is appropriate in this instance.

  9. John, you’re a “troll,” someone who tries to invade others’ work with their own usually irrelevant stuff to make a name for yourself. I published what you wrote, told you why I thought it was silly and inappropriate. I don’t want flies, I want intelligent discourse. If you do submit anything else as dumb as “checking out the bathrooms” I will delete it, fair warning. I do run this the way I see fit, and your comments don’t fit. And please, with the size of my communities, don’t lecture me on what’s productive and counterproductive.

  10. Mathias, duly noted, various cultures demand different protocols. I believe you would also use all the honorifics, such as Herr Doctor Professor…. Correct?

    • This depends, Alan. In Germany, “Doktor” is considered part of the name whereas “Professor” is not.

      How many honorifics are used depends on context. You may usually omit the Professor and simply say “Guten Morgen, Frau Dr. Schmidt” when you meet her, even if she is a professor. However, when you announce her as a speaker at a conference, you have to include all of them: “Ich möchte Ihnen nun Frau Professor Dr. Dr. Schmidt ankündigen” (if she holds a professor and two doctors).

      This sounds complicated, doesn’t it? 🙂

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