Thursday, May 10, 2012

Etiquette: A Business Case for Maximizing Deal Advantage

Are lapses in etiquette a potentially serious detriment to business growth and development? Can proper use of etiquette and manners enhance the competitiveness of your organization? Sales executives, trying to gain competitive advantage for every opportunity, might not be giving enough consideration to the role etiquette plays in developing and maintaining business, and in building long term relationships.           

Demonstrating good etiquette may seem old-fashioned by today’s informal standards, but in our view it continues to hold considerable relevance in business, and importantly, is a key factor in differentiating players. Proper etiquette and manners make a long lasting impression and a significant contribution to the foundation of relationships.  Furthermore, the higher up the corporate ladder the decision lands, the more influence manners and etiquette are likely to have on any given business decision.

Let’s look at a case study where manners and etiquette played a key role in the decision process.

Case Study: Poor Manners are Risky Business

When asked to conduct a post-mortem on why an important deal was lost to a competitor, what we learned about the possible consequences of poor business etiquette was astounding and thought provoking.

Our client, a large accounting firm, asked us to interview the decision-making team of the organization to which they had proposed a large IT consulting project. Our client had just learned they lost the business to a key competitor, and were convinced they placed second out of five firms proposing for the business.

When asked to comment on the strength of their proposal, our client team was quick to say it was priced very competitively and had more creative IT consulting approaches. They commented that they had put weeks into developing the proposal, aligning the right people and expertise to the possible engagement.  Not surprisingly, our client saw their proposal as the best on the table.

The interview of the three prospect decision-makers revealed a different story, one that was to teach a valuable lesson on etiquette.

During the first few moments of the post-mortem discussion, the prospective customer’s team stated emphatically it would never consider our client for any engagement. When asked to compare proposals, they noted that our client’s proposal was good, similar to the other accounting firms in pricing and approach, but also remarked that good proposals are expected from well-known and respected accounting firms.

We then asked the key questions: “what happened and why wouldn’t our client be considered for any engagement?” The prospect team pointed to an unfortunate deal breaking “incident” that occurred.  During the bake-off presentation, one team member abruptly interrupted another member while an important question was being answered and gave his own response. Unfortunately, interrupting a colleague or a customer may be an all too common informal standard today, but to this prospective customer where teamwork was highly valued, it was viewed as unprofessional and disrespectful, an unforgivable error that resulted in the decision not to award the engagement to our client.

Our client, obviously distressed and dismayed losing the business to a courtesy blunder instead of deal pricing or structure, admitted to gaining insight and strategy for future sales endeavors.

Etiquette Insight for Sales Professionals

This type of scenario highlights the importance of demonstrating high professional standards of manners and etiquette.  

Key Sales Strategy Points:

  • Proper etiquette and manners are indicative of quality and value and may be a deciding factor.
  • Be aware of treating your colleagues with respect and consideration even during stressful sales situations
  • When planning a team sales meeting, ensure team members are conscious of professional courtesy when interacting in front of clients, as this will be noticed and may impact the decision. Be especially aware of how the team may react when fielding tough objections and questions.
  • Debrief your team sales meetings with a critical eye on how well the team demonstrated proper and refined etiquette.

Written by Catherine Flynn and John Blankin, May, 2012