Coffee Killed the Sale – Showing Favoritism.

By Chris Lott | Sales | 8590 Views | 9 Comments    

I was involved in a fairly large opportunity where they had an eight member team that was to recommend the vendor. After a long process, where many times we thought we were in the lead, we lost the deal. Heart breaker. During the sales process Starbucks Coffee was offered. Not a bad thing right? Except my salesman did it almost every week, sometimes a couple of times a week, to the person heading up the decision. There were some serious politics between this team that we weren’t exactly privy to. Prior to one of the meetings this same salesman sent a message to all eight asking what they would like to drink. He said “I already know what Jill wants how about the rest?” At that point she went out of her way to not show us any favoritism. Prior to this she had been our advocate.


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In another instance trying to woo a potential customer with a game of golf seemed to be working. For a while. As time went by my sales pro started to get nervous and offered another game of golf against my recommendation. It was flatly turned down as they now felt it was going against company policy. He then could not get them to return calls and/or emails.

While these two examples were not the only reasons for losing these deals I firmly believe they “tipped the scale” away from us.

What is a business relationship?
“Every issue, belief, attitude or assumption is precisely the issue that stands between you and your relationship to another human being…” I have found that my best business relationships have been founded on trust and respect. Without either there really is no relationship.

Where to draw the line?
In both of the previous examples trust and respect became suspect. Offering refreshments for a meeting is perfectly harmless. Lunch would work as well. Twice a week for a couple of months is simply over the top. If you and/or your customer feel uncomfortable then it’s too much. You should realize this, however, before the offer is made.

What act or gift works for one customer may very well insult another. You have to be adept enough to gauge the potential client. You have to resist the temptation that “more is good”. Like emails, gifts’ purpose and/or meaning can be misread. I would go so far as to say most of the time they are. Then there’s the politics of who gets what and why. A sticky business at best. This is why I usually pass on gifts. It’s just too easy to jeopardize your opportunity.

Now What?
Today’s sales arena is as competitive as I have ever seen. We are all looking for the “edge” the “differentiator”. Experience has taught me gifts really don’t work for this. What does work is professional salesmanship. Do your due diligence. You need to understand the opportunity in an in-depth manner as to resolve the customers concerns and pains. Then prove this by offering a relevant solution. No tricks, gimmicks, gifts. Just solid salesmanship. At the end of the day you will win more deals and your customers will thank you.

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9 thoughts on “Coffee Killed the Sale – Showing Favoritism.

  1. “It’s all about knowing your industry and reading your audience. Im market/sell to healthcare. The concept of any form of gift is a highly sensitive issue. And you are right: it’s not about the little (or big) freebies. It’s about being a professional. About helping people, so they know they have made the right decision.”

  2. I’m a sales pro and I despise the act of gifting to win business. The only time it is acceptable is for a valued, established customer that has turned into a friend. You must expect nothing in return. I used to be on the other side, as an IT Director I made a lot of purchases. I HATED gifts, lunches, all of it. It made me feel cheap and merely clouded the sales process.

  3. Quickly illustrates the fine line between gift or bribe even if we think of the action as neither.

    I avoid the issue – a gift is not going to set you or your company apart except with someone you might be better not doing business with – build the relationship and become the “partner” that your client needs

  4. Chris, let me start out by saying you are definitely not alone when it comes to trying to find a balance in the sales process. It is like a high stakes game of dating.

    My advice… go to a bar.. a really popular business bar. Not to get drunk, although you could do that :). You are there to watch the bartender, and you should have your salesperson watch them as well, there is no professional sales person who can read their clients needs and wants even half as well as a top bartender. They will be there when needed, listen when wanted, and comment when appropriate.

    sounds like a great sales process to me…

  5. Chris,

    having worked in the Middle East (now back in Utah), I have reflected on the "when does a gift turn into a bribe?" dilemma many times. Obviously the culture in which we work informs that decision for most people. A business lunch or dinner is OK in the American business world. But a straight out gift is probably not. Even in the ME, where gifts (bribes?)are a normal cost of doing business, there is still a wink, wink, nudge, nudge feeling about it. In any case, my view is that none is better than too much.


  6. "I have found that my best business relationships have been founded on trust and respect. Without either there really is no relationship"

    Chris, I agree wholeheartedly, and this extends beyond the client/prospect relationship to the team you are working with.

  7. Excellent post Chris.

    It reminded me of a ride-along I did a few year back where the rep passed out individualized gifts on the second meeting. When he got to the VP, who was there for the first time, he said "I didn't know what to get you so I picked up this apple pie." You should have seen the looks of desparation. I broke the silence with, "I sure hope you brought some plates and silver with that."

    I don't know how we made it out of there in one piece. I swear – you can't make this stuff up.

    Jason Fallon

  8. Chris – Nice post! You are correct. For a successful and repeat business relationship respect and trust are required (both sides).

    Hope all is going well 🙂

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