Are you worth waiting for?

Are you worth waiting for? - image for article by Greg Alder

Here’s a quick test.

You have a client who’s a nice enough guy. However, his business isn’t exactly one of your more lucrative sources of income. You have just finished a meeting, the main purpose of which was to give this client a chance to introduce a new senior member of his team (who seems to be a nice enough woman).

The meeting concludes and in a rush of blood to the head you blurt out an invitation to both of your clients to join you for a drink at a nearby bar.

The time is now 6pm. The more senior of your clients answers that a drink would be great but adds that he’ll have to leave at 7 for another commitment.

Do you:
A. Drop everything and head straight for the bar to maximise quality time with your clients before the 7pm deadline?
B. Direct your clients to the bar and tell them you’ll join them as soon as you have responded to a very important phone call?
C. Withdraw your invitation, claiming to have forgotten another appointment.
D. Direct your clients to the bar and then join them 45 minutes later without accounting for your tardiness?

If you answered A, you clearly have a lot to learn. Not only does this reek of unnatural enthusiasm, it also marks you as an insecure novice. For the most part, these clients know they’re just minnows and so to be treated with fawning attention would seem to be completely inappropriate, even a little worrying.

B isn’t a bad answer. It reminds your existing client of his ranking in your client pecking order. It lets your client’s new colleague know that whilst you value her boss’s business, you have other clients and other priorities.

The trouble with C isn’t so much that it sounds like you suddenly realised your folly in blurting out the invitation (which might be the truth). The real problem is that it leaves a degree of uncertainty. Your clients will have a suspicion that your claimed “other commitment” was a feeble invention to renege on the drink (which of course it is), but they’ll have no proof.

Yes, the only really satisfactory answer to this test is D.

By inviting clients to have a drink and then not turning up until they’re about to leave, you’re making a really powerful statement. First and most obviously, you are reminding your piddling little client that his business really means bugger all to you. Just in case he’d forgotten. Simultaneously you’re also sending a warning to your client’s new offsider. Without even uttering a word you have unequivocally warned her not to get misguided ideas about her employer’s importance to you.

By inviting your clients for a drink and then not arriving, your existing client will feel that you’ve made him appear an insignificant fool to his impressionable new staff member. It’s a slap in the face with a wet fish – and not a herring either but something more substantial, like a fifty-kilo catfish, one that’s been dead a week.

The coup de grace is that when you do finally deign to show up, you show absolutely no sign of remorse nor make any attempt to explain what kept you.

Yes I’m late. What’s the problem?

These messages should never be verbalised. With practice, you can communicate them with facial expressions and body language.

A diva never swans onto the movie set three hours late only to spoil the impact by grovelling forgiveness and blabbering feeble excuses about a broken nail.

The gods never apologise. Neither should you. You are a really important person. You are busy. You are magnificent. You are … you get the drift.

(Oh, in case you’re wondering, the test above is based on a real event. A former partner of mine did exactly this – he invited our former clients to have a drink and then turned up just before the clients had to leave, with no apology or explanation offered. Excellent stuff.)

Whether at your client’s office, your own or on neutral ground, keeping clients waiting is one of your more powerful and infuriating tools.

If a client comes to your office, time spent on the reception sofa is an opportunity to be reminded of how celebrated you are. To this end, make sure there are plenty of awards, honorary doctorates and the like scattered around the walls. Keep the reception area well stocked with copies of magazines that ran glowing feature stories on you or your company – especially those articles accompanied by photographs that captured you in an unusually flattering light or show you with a former head of state. Put footage of your best work or television interviews on a loop to play on the LCD screen facing the waiting area.

Most clients should understand and appreciate that they’re being forced to wait not just because you are a very busy, very important person but to give them time to appreciate just how lucky they are to have been granted the opportunity to work with you.

Here’s the one really important proviso before you keep a client waiting. You’d better be worth it. You’d better be outrageously good at what you do. You’d better be unique. You’d better be indispensable.

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