Pushy Sales People, Boundaries and the Crowned Prince of Nigeria
Over the years I’ve learnt that good boundaries make for good businesses.
I work in the financial advice space for small business, and we’re known for helping small business owners and their families protect and manage their wealth.
As part of this profile, I get more than my fair share of requests for free help, and regular communication from the Crowned Prince of Nigeria who repeatedly asks my help in transferring his personal gold reserves out of his country to mine (via my business bank account). Even though foreign currency transactions and exporting precious metals across borders is not in my skill set, he is remarkably persistent in his email requests for help. It’s got to the point I’ve had to create a special SPAM rule to filter his voluminous correspondence.
Guard your confidence.
The chief goal of every business owner is to first guard their confidence then protect their time, because how you think (and how much time you have to think), determines the direction of your business growth
Protect your core thinking.
You don’t have to be in business long to realise there’s a flood of business advice content to swim through; some dubious, some relevant but most designed to make you feel less confident without significant additional work on your behalf.
Since the way we think about ourselves and our businesses is so fundamental to its success, it makes sense to consider whether you’re actively guarding your confidence and the way you think about your business.
What’s your plan to manage your commercial conversations?
One way to guard your business thinking is through using a Core and Satellite approach to business conversations. It’s designed to deliberately segment how you think about your business into non-negotiable core priorities – to be kept private between you and your accountability team – and less critical satellite issues, open for regular discussion and review as needed.
How I guard my time.
I work with about 16 major suppliers of financial products who all employ sales people or area managers, better known as Business Development Managers (BDM’s) whose job is to meet with advisors like myself to keep us connected to their corporate brand.
The performance of a BDM is in part measured by how many advisers like myself they see each week. A problem arises when all 16 sets of BDMs begin vying for my single calendar.
This oversupply of salespeople compounds when approximately half of them change employers annually (a common theme) which translates into eight new BDM’s every year who all want to come to see me. That amounts to a request for a supplier meeting every 40 days – all invoking the same incantation bent on granting its automatic access to my busy work schedule calendar.
The question that betrays their lack of interest usually arrives as a request like this;
‘Hi, I’m the new BDM for company XYZ and would like to come and introduce myself and get to know you and your business better, so I can help you. When can we meet?’
In the early days when business was spartan, I might have welcomed such a predictable and regular invitation to distraction that further fragmented my thinking, focus and direction.
But now my business has matured and my calendar bulges with client bookings, my response to the new BDM incantation is usually in the form of two screening questions; I ask the same questions because I’m interested in the answer
My response usually goes like this;
‘Hello, thanks for the request to meet to get to know me and my business’.
Have you already researched me online and learnt about who I am, what I do and who my clients are?
Have you read the notes of your previous colleague about what they already learned about me and my business?’ (Ok maybe this second part is a trick question – they don’t keep notes – ever.)
Interestingly, the answers provided so far to these two now routine questions have all begun with the words, ‘Ummm…’ (I keep notes). Why do I ask prospective suppliers screening questions?
These two lines of screening questions provide two things:
- They constantly remind my suppliers and my team of the expectations and boundaries my business has set around our available time budget and who we talk to, about different aspects of our business.
- They provide a genuinely eager new supplier or BDM, a roadmap of predictable expectation how to best interact with me and my business and the supplier boundaries and expectations we have in place.
Using boundaries to guard my core conversations.
Here are two approaches we use to help guard our core conversations.
Separate core business thinking and restrict who has access to those conversations.
Taking a Core and Satellite approach to segmenting and protecting your key business conversations means you have to;
- Determine what’s a core business function or idea and therefore off-limits to only you and your closest confidants,
- Determine what’s a satellite business function and open for discussion and review, and
- learn to recognise quickly, what’s outside your orbit (not deserving of your time or consideration during a work day) and irrelevant until proven otherwise.
Never take an empty mind to a meeting (ever).
As the business leader, many suppliers will try and interpose their own systems and expectations into your business at the expense of your own.
Take a prepared attitude towards meetings and what you’re about to hear or discuss and decide whether this relates to a core business function or satellite issue.
When going to new sales meetings, resist the urge (and the pushy salesperson) to make unusual speedy commitments about new and initially unrelated ideas and issues (no matter how bright and shiny).
Guarding your confidence and protecting your time in business can be a real challenge especially when you’re ambushed with a meeting request or flooded with advice. Good boundaries in business usually make for better business conversations and managed expectations; where even the Crowned Prince of Nigeria does not automatically get a meeting just because he asks.
For those readers concerned I may have immodestly criticised the Crowned Prince of Nigeria and his fair efforts to safeguard his wealth, a quick search will show Nigeria is a Republic, ruled by a tenured democratically elected President.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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