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Dealing with your customer’s time constraints
Dave Kahle
Dave Kahle

Q.  How much time should you expect from a customer for an appointment?

A.   This is one of those many questions about sales issues for which the answer always begins with “It depends.”  It depends, first of all, if this is a prospect (someone who has not purchased) or a regular customer (someone who buys regularly).  Generally speaking, you can expect more time with a customer than with a prospect.

It depends, secondly, on the understanding your customer has about the purpose and agenda of the call.  For example, if you asked for 60 minutes in order to detail your response to his request for a proposal or a piece of equipment, then you should expect 60 minutes.  If you asked for a short period of time to introduce you and your company, then you are probably lucky to get 30 minutes.

It depends, next, on your personal reputation.  If you are a seasoned rep who, over the years, has built a reputation that you won’t waste your customer’s time, and that you are always prepared to share something you think will be of value to the customer, then you should expect more time.  If, however, you don’t have such a reputation with the customer, then you should expect less time.

It depends, finally, on your objective for the sales call.  If you want to check up on the delivery of an order, for example, it probably shouldn’t take you more than ten minutes.  If you want to get a tour of the facility and meet four of the key people, it could take a couple of hours.

As an overall rule to guide you, the call shouldn’t take any longer than it needs to take.  In other words, have a purpose, have an agenda and move methodically and professionally through that agenda.

Remember, of equal importance to how much time you think the call should take is how much time the customer has to devote to it.  As you know, time is the scarce commodity of our age, and your customer doesn’t have much of it.  You need to respect your customer’s time constraints.  If you expect an hour of your customer’s time, that’s 16 percent of his day.  Are you that important?  Will you bring him/her enough value to justify that?  Never allow your preconceived notions to override your customer’s time constraints.   

Q.  If the time allowed for a sales call is too short, should you cancel or reschedule?

A.  Good question.  To put my answer in perspective, remember that I believe that time is the customer’s most scarce asset.  They never have enough time.  That’s why they use voice mail, gate keepers and set agendas – to help them get the most out of their days.  It is so difficult to actually get face-to-face selling time that any time you get should be respected.  I’ve said all of that in order to say this:  Take the appointment, even if you know you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do.

That gives you an opportunity to make a personal contact, and to learn a little bit about the customer.  Do as much as you can during that first appointment, and, before you leave, make an appointment for the next visit to complete what you started.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of distributor and B2B salespeople and sales managers to be more effective in the 21st century economy. He’s authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and eight countries. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine or visit his blog at E-mail to contact Dave.