Lessons from Sweet Pea

By Steve Michaels

The dreaded day had finally come. One of the requirements to enter our alpaca, Sweet Pea, into the top Celebrity Sale of the year was to take a profile picture of her bite showing her teeth and upper gum. This particular female came directly from Chile and was difficult to deal with because her every contact with humans was unpleasant for her. She had been forcibly caught, given a series of shots, loaded onto a boat for transport to Canada, and then brought to the States for sale. She was not a happy camper when it came to physical contact with humans. Simply stated, she didn’t trust us.

Our first encounter with her was trying to put on her halter. She would kick, spit, scream, and literally drag us when trying to be led, thus the dreaded thought of holding her head still to take a photograph of her bite. I got into a small pen with her while my wife, Chris, held the camera for the shot. I came up to her from the side where she could see me and gently started to stroke her. No resistance. I then began rubbing her neck getting closer to her head and still no resistance. Could this be the same alpaca that only a few months ago would have spit at me between the eyes rather than look at me? Finally after a few more minutes of comforting her, I was able to slip my fingers into her mouth and separate it enough so we could get the profile shot required for the sale. Over time and with a lot of patience, we had gained her trust.

The lesson here for the service provider is that there are some customers who will know what they want, survey the marketplace, and sign up with you immediately. On the other hand, there are others who need to take their time and learn to trust you and your company. No, I’m sure that they are not as untrusting as the alpaca story I just told you but you never know what kind of negative experience a potential client may have had with another company, projecting that prior bad experience on your organization.

The sales cycle of these particular clients may take time and may need some gentle persuasion. But often they become your most loyal and lasting customers. All clients are not equal. They come from different backgrounds and have different experiences when it comes to being sold a product or a service. Making a cold call and offering sales literature may not be enough. These clients need to be weaned slowly to gain your trust and to be able to interact with you at their own pace and comfort level.

Staying active in professional and community organizations is always beneficial. It puts you face to face with new clients and allows you the opportunity to make contacts and form alliances, which is usually the first step. There you can get to know them first as people and later as clients. Giving them a firm hand shake, educating them as to what you do without coming on too strong, and letting the relationship develop over time is often the only way you will establish their trust. The soft sale with this particular type of client is a way to establish a long-term personal and business relationship.

I know of individuals in our industry who have sold a majority of their accounts on the golf course. By getting to know someone in a neutral area, a potential client does not feel threatened and gets to know you, your abilities, and what you are capable of providing. We would all prefer to do business with someone we know and trust. Through persistence, networking, and patience, those potentially difficult clients will become die-hard customers for many years to come.

By the way, we have decided to keep our top female, Sweet Pea, to enhance our breeding program. She has become a nice, trusting animal.

Steve Michaels and TAS Marketing have been serving the TAS industry in the mergers and acquisitions arena for over 23 years with over 220 businesses sold. His years of experience have widened his scope and experience in buying and selling businesses nationwide. He may be contacted at 800-369-6126, tas@tasmarketing.com, or visit www.tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2002]

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