Let’s get tactical for a moment.
You’ve just arrived at prospect’s office for an in-person meeting. You tell the receptionist that you’re here for a meeting and he asks if he can get you anything while you wait. Being polite and not wanting to intrude, you say “no thanks”. After all, your meeting is at 3:00 and it’s already 2:55, so you probably don’t have the time.
You’re the sales guy, so you are low on the priority list of the person you are meeting. That means he’s running a few minutes behind (sounds familiar, right?). So take the coffee. I don’t care if you just had one an hour ago. I don’t even care if you don’t like coffee. Just don’t be the fool who passes on the drink and instead sits quietly playing Angry Birds on their phone.
Here’s why this is so important.
First, when the receptionist offers you the beverage, you are getting your first opportunity to break away from the Buyer-Seller paradigm (one that is often full of angst) and move instead to the Host-Guest paradigm. In the former you are just some guy trying to push a product. As a result, they stick you in the corner and hope you wait quietly. In the latter, stronger paradigm, you are a welcomed guest in their office. The job of the host is to please thier guests and to help them in anyway they can.
And that is just what you need as a salesman. Help.
You need help understanding the customer better: their pain points, their internal processes, their current situation, their buying process. And while the receptionist doesn’t have all of these answers, you can never have enough allies trying to help you get that information.
Second, by taking the coffee and starting down the path of the Host-Guest, you get a chance to check out the office. At most companies, the coffee is located somewhere central in the employee seating. Now you have a chance to learn about the office layout and get a lay of the land. A quick walk-through can tell you a lot about the company and its culture if you are paying attention to the right things.
Look at what’s on the employee desks. Are they tech leaders or laggards? Is it an open floor plan or are the Exec’s offices tucked away in the corner? What are people talking about (are they talking at all)? If nothing else, you have something new to chat about with your prospect once the meeting starts (because everyone is tired of talking about the weather).
Finally, once you get to the coffee room, you’ve bought yourself a minute or two to chat with the receptionist. Ask about that award you saw on the wall (many companies put these in a high traffic area). Take this chance to learn more about the company from someone who knows a whole lot. Sure, the receptionist isn’t in the Board meetings, but they are at each of the company-wide meetings. They do see everyone’s calendar, and maybe even help coordinate travel and events. They may even be able to answer some of your prospecting questions. Think about it, and give it a try.
Knowing you’re going to take the coffee and have a few minutes, add to your pre-meeting prep list a few questions that you could ask the receptionist. Maybe look them up on LinkedIn. Be prepared for the chance to walk the halls a bit and know what you’re going to do and say when you get there. Show up a bit early so you are more likely to get the coffee opportunity.
But whatever you do, please, take the coffee. Because it’s about way more than a drink.