There is such a thing as etiquette. It isn’t just about Emily Post and table settings, either.
Etiquette is the rules of the Game of Association Between People. All people, everywhere. And while not all the rules are written, you violate them at your risk.
One of those rules is that intimacy has a pace and a sequence. Some things are done only after other things, and usually with a certain elapsed time.
I know you’re thinking of romantic relationships at this point, and that’s fine; it’s a pretty good case in point. Some things you don’t say or do until other things are said or done.
We forget that exactly the same rules apply in sales. Which is precisely the point made by Michael Holt, CEO of the design firm gardyneHOLT in Auckland, New Zealand in the following email he shared with me.
Michael met a financial planner at an Expat Show in Shanghai. He spoke for perhaps 15 seconds with the person—let’s call him Joe Planner–and exchanged business cards. He later received a letter from Joe. Here is Michael’s reaction:
Hello Joe Planner,
Thanks for your email and I did look at your site. Very comprehensive, although I must say, I am usually put off by obvious stock photography rather than real images of your firm, your people, your office, your clients. I feel that stock images are trying to hide something.
However, in response to your email, you say that you "remember that we spoke about ways to help me save." Umm… no we didn’t, Joe. I’m sure that your email is a form letter and you’ve just put it out to me along with many other people. Do you think that you can build a relationship with me, in offering a customized and tailored service… by commencing with a form letter? Do you think I’ll feel that you’ve given me any more thought than entering me into your sales follow up database?
Can you think of something more critically important to me that my future financial well-being, and yet you want me to trust you with that when you have an incorrect recollection of our opening conversation? Of course I understand that you’ll have met many people at that event, but why state then that you remember our topic of conversation when you don’t?
I feel that you are following up to a pile of received business cards, including mine, and you’re being a good sales guy by doing the numbers game work. That’s fine and perfectly normal… for a commoditized and process-driven business process. Except of course, that I’m a person, and not a box.
As it happens, I have a complex set of financial arrangements centering around establishing branches of my firm in 2 countries overseas right now, and where I’ll be living with my family from next year. All this amidst global financial insecurity. I’m looking for a partner and advisor that treats me with respect, that asks more than it sells/tells and that doesn’t insult my intelligence with form letters.
Best of luck,
Michael is simply voicing what we all know as customers. There is a law of etiquette in sales. Some things you don’t say or do until other things are said or done.
Joe didn’t follow the law of etiquette in sales. In return he received the predictable consequence–in this case voiced by Michael.
I think Michael said it pretty well.
(BTW, he tells me he didn’t hear back from Joe Planner.)