I was meeting with a business owner about a print bid he’d received from a company that he’d hoped to add to his client base for years. I would be providing the paper and wanted to help him win it, and with that in mind, asked:
“Where’s the pricing at?”
Clearly shocked and delighted to have caught me, his eyes widened as he cackled and reared back from his desk. “Pat Detmer, English major? You ended that sentence with a preposition!” I frowned and thoughtfully considered it for a moment, nodding as I did so.
“You know, you’re absolutely right,” I conceded. “Where’s the pricing at asshole?”
It’s an exchange that quickly made the industry rounds.
My motto has always been You can always ask someone something at least once. Some clients might consider questions about their business an intrusion, but you won’t know that unless you try. In long-term B to B relationship sales, after years of working with the same people, much is assumed, but much is also unconfirmed, and some reps get in a rut and become fearful of asking their customers about their practices, failures, or successes, and will shy away from asking which vendor has the greatest share of the business and why. When I would push them to have conversations that included questions, one of the the reps said, “But it’s nosy.”
“It’s not nosy,” I replied. “It’s business. This is nosy: What do you weigh? When did you last have sex? Have you ever been divorced?”
Questions are good (if you don’t end them with a preposition) and answers are even better. If you’re genuinely curious, it scratches an itch; clients can be flattered by questions about how they operate if you phrase them carefully and present them well; you can gain answers that help you focus your time and energy. So if you’re not asking questions now, consider it, be it about a raise, a change in your work process, gaining help on a project, or additional business from a client.
Just stay away from the weight and sex stuff.
June 8, 2022