Thanks for Nothing

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me." Nary a sales meeting takes place without those words being uttered by the seller. They seem innocuous enough; a common courtesy, right? Let’s look a little closer, then you decide if you want your salespeople to be, shall we say, "talking that way."
First, a clarification that I feel I need to shout from the mountaintops: I am NOT suggesting that sellers never say thank you to a customer for anything. For some strange reason, many salespeople seem to draw that conclusion when we talk about this topic in sessions with clients.
I’ll start with an illustration. Charlie is sitting in his cubicle minding his own business, just doing his selling stuff, when, suddenly: "you’ve got mail." Charlie scurries to open the still-smoking email. Much to his delight, it’s an RFP, received out of the blue from a large company. He prints it out – a 30-pager – and, over the next few days reviews it with a few internal folks. Collectively, Charlie and his colleagues conclude that, on the one hand, this looks like a beaut. The dollars are substantial, the requirements seem to fit with Charlie’s company’s strengths and they can meet the timelines spelled out in the RFP.
On the other hand, the mere process of responding to the request for proposal will consume, by Charlie and the team’s estimate, somewhere between 10 and 15 man-days of time. Problem is, Charlie’s company has no track record with the prospective customer. What’s more, it’s not unusual for companies in Charlie’s market to send out RFPs with no real intention of making a purchase, tire-kicking, for any number of reasons, not the least of which is simply to "keep the current provider honest."
Charlie needs info, real info. He needs to ask this prospective customer some very frank and direct questions to determine if this RFP is worth the chase. He knows he has to do more than ask the standard creampuff questions like, "what’s your timing on making this purchase?" or "Is there budget for the project?"
Let’s say, for the sake of this illustration, that the RFP is just a tire-kicking exercise.
Charlie has to call the person whose name is specified on the RFP as the contact person. In this case, Charlie’s going to ask for a face-to-face meeting (many times, this type of qualifying discussion should happen by phone) in an attempt to "drill down" to see just how real and how hot this baby is. Here’s where it gets interesting because the language Charlie uses in requesting the meeting and at the beginning of the meeting will ultimately determine the outcome. So let’s look at both dialogs (the meeting request and at the start of the meeting itself).
Using traditional – and very common – selling language, Charlie might call the contact, let’s call him Greg, and make his meeting request as follows: "Hi Greg, this is Charlie from XYZ Company. I’d like to ask you a few questions before we respond to your RFP. Could we get together for an hour or so?"
Then, at the appointed time, Charlie and Greg meet. "Hi Greg, nice to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me. As I said on the phone, I’d like to ask you a few questions before we respond." If you’re Greg, what are you thinking? Perhaps two things, one consciously and the other not so consciously. First, you’re thinking, "Charlie’s company IS going to respond to my RFP." Secondly, you’re thinking – and this is the not-so-conscious thought – "Hmm, he thanked me for my time, Charlie’s just like most salespeople, he wants to be responsive and accommodating so he’s not likely to ask the tough questions and, therefore, figure out that we’re just tire-kicking."
Let’s look at the same dialogs but losing the "thank you" as well as the other traditional "master/servant" language: "Greg, hi this is Charlie from XYZ. Thanks for sending the RFP in our direction. On first blush it looks like it might fall right into our sweet spot. However, it’s a very substantial project, so, before we decide to roll up our sleeves and commit resources to a response, I’d like to get a better sense for the project to confirm that it fits with our core strengths, resources and the like." In like manner, Charlie starts the meeting with Greg without thanking him for "taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with me" and proceeds to position the meeting as he did in the phone request.
Now, what are you thinking if you’re Greg?
"I am major league busted!"
Granted, the above interaction required more than just avoiding saying "thanks for your time" to make it work. However, even in the second version of the dialog, if Charlie had started the meeting with "thanks for taking the time to meet with me," that would have all but neutralized the effect of the other language he used to position the interaction.
Bottom line: We show gratitude when someone does us a favor or gives us a gift. Customers are not doing sellers a favor by meeting with them any more than sellers are doing customers a favor. It’s a mutually beneficial interaction conducted between two business people who are, essentially, peers. The insertion of the "thank you for your time" instantly reinforces the traditional master/servant relationship between customer and seller.

Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Stapleton Resources LLC a Waukesha-based
sales force effectiveness practice. He can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at

Small Business Times, December 16, 2005, Milwaukee, WI

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