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Greatest Hits: Indecision, Procrastination and Louie (posted 8/20/2010)

Most small business owners are action-oriented and decisive. They don't have the time or money to agonize over minor issues. They make a decision and move on. Because of their bias toward action, they are sometimes a bit impatient with prospects, clients and customers who don't move as fast.

We've all experienced the indecisive prospect. In retail shops, they come in and browse and may come back several times, examining the same object over and over before they buy it. At car dealers, they keep returning to the showroom bringing a different friend or family member each time. Then they arrive again to look in the trunk or fiddle with the seat adjustment controls. If your procrastinating prospects and customers are large corporations or government agencies, there are seemingly endless stages of approval with presentations and meetings a requirement at every level.

The trick to selling under these conditions is to recognize that the path is long and calmly deal with the questions and quibbles while continuing to press in a friendly way for a commitment. Whatever happens, you must never lose patience and show anger or annoyance. You'll lose the sale very quickly if you do.

Here's a story about what not to do:

At one time, I worked for a very large chemical company in new product development. While looking for new products, I ran into a guy who had developed a unique coating and process for applying it. The process we presently used required a million dollar vacuum chamber; Louie had developed a coating which performed like ours but could be applied with a household insect fogger attached to a garden hose.

Louie wanted to sell us an exclusive license; we were very interested. Now, Louie was strange - he was a very clever inventor but he was also a low-level Mafioso. He looked, dressed, talked and acted like a small-time hood.

Joe Sherlock blogWe arranged for a demonstration at our research laboratory. Louie showed up with his demonstration equipment wearing his best 1970s mobster dress-for-success attire - a maroon velour shirt (open to the waist), five gold neck chains, pale yellow Sansabelt slacks and Gucci loafers.

Louie began his presentation with these words, "I have to apologize to all of youse for being a little hard-of-hearing today. I was in my office last Saturday evening when some guys broke through the skylight and whacked me on the head with a lead pipe. I've got some temporary deafness, so if youse have questions, please speak up."

Louie's demonstration was fascinating and attracted the attention of other laboratory staff. They'd come in, watch for a while and then ask a question, unaware of Louie's hearing problem. "As I said before, due to a head injury, I'm hard of hearing. So please talk louder."

More people wandered in. They asked questions. Louie was getting annoyed: "Look! I can't hear youse. My injury makes me a little #%*@* hard of hearing. You got that?"

Finally the head of the lab came in. He was a quiet, thoughtful person - a Quaker, actually. He was a also Ph.D. Chemist and spoke in a very soft voice. He had a question. Louie glared at him, giving him the evil eye: "Hey! Speak up, you #@#*%! I've been *&%#@ mugged."

The good doctor reeled in horror. He fled the room and never returned until Louie had completed his still-impressive demonstration, packed his equipment in the trunk of his Cadillac Eldorado and headed back towards the New Jersey Turnpike. The laboratory head was on the new product evaluation committee. He would bear no discussion of Louie or his novel idea, simply replying that "we don't do business with madmen."

The lesson here is to be patient while guiding your prospect toward a commitment. As for Louie, he never sold the company a license because he lost his patience which blocked his road to a sale. I hope his hearing came back.

More of my business advice can be found here.


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The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

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Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.

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