When Assumptions Get in the Way of Customer Service and Sales

The trade show floor is crowded. Booth after booth after booth of company displays fill the exhibition hall. The show is an annual event and every company represented put significant dollars into being there so they could showcase their product and their service.

A lot of work has gone into preparing for the trade show.  Weeks before opening day, invitations and entrance passes were mailed to current and potential customers.  Special incentives were created for these three days. Marketing pieces were packed up and shipped to the exhibition hall, along with pop-up booths and door prize boxes.  As this show is geared towards rural municipalities and outdoor living, many companies brought along an example of the products they provide. From boats to tractors, emergency generators to plows, there are enough high-end toys and gadgets to keep any “worth your salt” rural, outdoor enthusiast busy for hours and hours.

Each booth is staffed by at least two sales professionals, all eager to close some lucrative deals. Many of these professionals rely on commission to help pay their bills. A lot of the products are priced in the tens of thousands of dollars; some are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They are expensive and intended to last for years and years. In other words, they don’t sell a lot of widgets, but when they do sell a widget, the payoff is great.

Most of the people attending the trade show are from administrative positions in rural government or business owners from rural communities.   They are looking for products or services that will help address specific challenges or needs.  Some are there because they can’t get enough of the cool toys and gadgets on display.  A few are in suits, but most are dressed business casual.

Walking down the aisle, through the throngs of primarily men in khakis, polo shirts and the occasional ball cap, is an elderly man.   He is tall, but stooped.  His jeans are old, his shirt is wrinkled and his work boots are a little muddy.  Instead of a portfolio, he’s putting all the paperwork and free stuff he collects into the bag provided by the exhibition registration team.

As he enters each booth, many of the sales professionals ignore him, instead choosing to focus on the khaki, polo-shirt wearing men.  After all, they only have three days of focused prospecting and selling. They need to focus on the high-potential clients.

He seems resigned to being overlooked and continues collecting information from a variety of booths.  As he stops again, this time at the booth of a company selling emergency generators, the sales professional working that booth acknowledges him, shakes his hand, welcomes him  and starts some friendly dialogue.

Before that tall but stooped man, wearing jeans, a wrinkled shirt and muddy work boots left the booth 45 minutes later, he signed a contract to purchase a $500,000 emergency generator for his community in northern Manitoba.

This story was shared with me by the sales professional who chose to look past the jeans, wrinkled shirt and muddy boots. A big part of success in the service industry is our ability to put our assumptions about people behind us.  Yes, those assumptions are based on previous life experiences, but we don’t know the stories of the people that walk through our doors.

It’s so easy to make assumptions about people based on the way they look, the way they talk or where they are from.  Those assumptions close doors and opportunities.  Regardless of whether we lose the opportunity to pull in commission on a $500,000 deal or we lose the opportunity to connect with and learn from someone with different life experience … we lose.