I recently had the honor of greeting the fantastic volunteers that participated in the Panasonic Triathlon in support of JDRF. I was so inspired that I made the decision - in fact, I made the declaration – that I would participate in a triathlon within the next six months. I'd thought about doing one before but the hold back has always been the swimming. This time it was going to be different! I immediately reached out to several NYC swimming programs stating my interest with an invitation to call back at their convenience.
I was pleased when the next day, my top choice called me back. After trading phone calls a few times, we finally connected. When we did, I could immediately tell something was “off" about our call. The owner that returned my call was abrupt and curt. She seemed to want to talk at me, rather than to me. The more questions I asked, the more irritated she seemed. I tried sharing information about my interests and asked what she thought would be the best lesson plan - that fell on deaf ears. I decided I'd had enough when I asked a question about the company and the reply "didn't you read our website?" I muttered "I don't think this is going to work" and hung up with her in mid-sentence. I'm not proud of that response but I believe customers should be treated respectfully.
A few minutes after our conversation ended, I was surprised to get an email from the owner apologizing for what had happened. I was even more amazed when she phoned a few minutes later explaining that she wanted to better understand what had taken place. Her tone was vastly different. I shared that I didn't feel like she was listening to me or that she cared about my interests. Bottom line: she seemed ready to sell way before I was ready to buy. She apologized again and explained that she knew she shouldn't have returned my call when she did. She had just been through managing a difficult staffing situation but felt pressure to call back ASAP. I let her know how impressed I was that she had the courage to engage a dissatisfied customer. In my experience, people rarely do this voluntarily. We ended up having a great conversation. I just finished my second swimming lesson with her program and feel like I'm on my way though I have lots of work ahead. Triathlon, here I come!
This may not seem like a big deal to you. To me, it illustrated a reality many of us, particularly in fields like sales and fundraising, don't consider. Yes, first impressions are critical to paving the way towards a successful relationship. It's true that you only get one chance for the FIRST impression. But why not be courageous enough to create opportunities for a SECOND if the first doesn't go well? That's what the owner of my swim program did and beyond the quality of her service, the simple fact that she cared enough to give it another shot put me right in her corner.
I wanted to highlight three things about she did that I believe we can all utilize next time we want to go for a super SECOND impression if the first one doesn't take:
Give it another shot - The simple act of the owner picking up the phone and trying again instantly changed my perception of her. How could it not? That takes guts, tenacity and caring. Who can fault someone for having any of those qualities? As a side note, for those of you who like to learn sales techniques, this has parallels to the "Blame Me" close. The idea is that you call back a prospect that turned you down and apologize profusely for not having correctly explained the benefits and value of your product and service. The difference between a technique like this and a true relationship builder is the difference between manipulation and authenticity.
Own your mistake - I already felt bad about the whole interaction. I don't like ending a call like that anymore than the person on the other end of the line does. Whether she knew how I felt or not, the owner didn’t try to put me on the defensive. In fact, she took 100% responsibility for what had transpired. She opened herself up to being vulnerable and owned the fact that waiting to call me would have been better.
We have more opportunities than we realize - Please know that I’m not advocating for not doing your 150% best on your first try. Get it right the first time that’s the main thing (to quote Billy Joel). This absolutely falls under the category of “You never know what can happen” until you try it. But imagine the build in your pipeline if you reached back to potential clients, donors, participants where something might have been off the day you spoke.
Share yourself, be a little vulnerable and ask for another chance to work with them. You truly never know what can happen.
Robert is an Executive and Business Development Coach. You can read him here or on www.younonprofitnow.com