Given A Choice, Customers Generally Prefer Not To Have Their Time Wasted


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I was struck by a sentence in the CEB’s Sales Challenger Blog, “Given a choice, customers will generally engage a supplier as late as they possibly can.” They go on to say the reason is the sales person has nothing unique or valuable to contribute to the conversation. They are absolutely right.

But more broadly, the issue really is, customers–most people, in fact–generally don’t like to have their time wasted! Yes, insight is an important part of creating value based conversations and engaging the customer, but it doesn’t stop there. In every interaction with the customer, we have to create value. If we don’t, we are wasting both their time and ours.

Sales people tend to be sharp, we are fast, we are (if we are doing our jobs) generally knowledgeable, we have (at least theoretically) some ability to communicate. These skills, properly executed, serve us and our abilities to engage customers well. However, too often, sales professionals become over-confident or sloppy. We shoot from the lip, we are unprepared.

While the data is a little old, several years ago, we researched sales call effectiveness. We found sales people tended to make 30-50% more calls than necessary to close. The underlying reasons were primarily poor planning and poor execution.

I talk frequently about the importance of sales call planning and execution. Generally, sales people are polite, but I read the expressions on their faces, “Dave, we know this, we make dozens of calls a week, give us the magic formula for success.” So here it is, the magic formula for success is: If you can’t define the value of the sales call (phone, face to face, email), then don’t make the call. You will be wasting the customer’s time. We should cancel the call, rescheduling it for a time when we can define the value, in the customer’s term, they will get from the call.

The anecdotal and quantitative evidence smacks us in the face every day, yet sales people ignore it: Customer prefer self educating to learning from the sales person. Customers are harder and harder to reach, they don’t return calls, when they do, they don’t want to talk to us. Customers tell us, “sales people talk about what they want to talk about, not what I want to talk about,” or more bluntly, “they waste our time.”

Value creation in our sales calls is not solving world hunger. It’s about being relevant and impactful to the customer. Providing great insight is a start. Helping the customer through their buying process is another step. Listening to them, giving each customer the opportunity to tell their own stories–enabling use to better create value in subsequent interactions. Having an agenda for each meeting, making sure both we and the customer are prepared to use that time well.

All of these create value for the time customers invest with us. They are fundamentals of effective sales call planning and execution.

Doing this improves our own time utilization. We start wasting less of our time. We accomplish more in each call, moving deals through the sales/buying cycle much more effectively.

Sales call planning is simple, it doesn’t take much time, but magnifies our impact on customers and our own effectiveness.

Given a choice, how do you want to spend your time?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave, you said:

    “Customer prefer self educating to learning from the sales person. ”

    and I’m wondering about how universal this might be. Wouldn’t it really depend?

    Often I see it the “other way”. That customers can save time, and want to get “consultative” information from the sales staff, particularly for more complex kinds of services and products.

    When I think of insurance, health care, or buying a car, or many other things, I expect to be educated by the representatives of the company I’m working with. Quite simply, because, as you say, it saves me time.

  2. Robert, there’s a lot of data that says sales people are being relegated to the final 30% (numbers vary around this) of the buying cycle, with customer using web and other information sources to educate themselves and develop a shortlist.

    But it doesn’t have to–and shouldn’t be this way. In some of my more recent articles I talk about this a lot. I think, as you imply, it doesn’t have to be this way and shouldn’t be, but it demands we change the way we engage our customers.

    In the following article, I’ve really kind of reiterated your very good point:

  3. I really have to wonder about that “research”, but that’s a horse I continue to flog — the poor quality of customer related research, particularly if it’s based on surveys.

    And, if those numbers accurately reflect consumer behavior rather than what consumers say about their behavior, then why not just have staff-less warehouses?

    Maybe it’s my mental block, but I can’t buy those results, or the implications. At least not as stated. I’m good with the notion that for some services and products, people DO research prior to contacting the establishment, and that that info factors in. I’m not good with the generalization that people don’t want to talk to their doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, car dealers, and a whole lot of other people.

  4. Robert, my apologies, the “research” is B2B focused, not B2C. At the same time though, the $billions’ spent on web based shopping like Amazon, with the corresponding challenges retailers of all sorts face, would make you think that there is some relevance.


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