The clock and the compass

This is the story of a B2B sales representative who comes back from an initial business development meeting with the ‘Thingummy Manager’ and tells his boss: “It went really well, he loved it, we scheduled another meeting in a fortnight for me to present a proposal!” Everyone is happy and a new deal is entered into the CRM with a 35% forecast.

If the sales representative sells commodities to operational staff, the deal can be done quite quickly, after a visit to Procurement and a 15% discount. Well done, although a question mark remains over the added value of the field-based sales representative vs. an inside sales team, or soon an online platform.

Today, when we send a sales representative out into the field, it’s more to offer value, i.e. business impact, which supposes that the prospective client decides to change its way of handling the ‘Thingummy’ (

And in that case, the final decision will be made by the Thingummy Manager’s first- or second-line manager. So there’s no point presenting a proposal to him… unless it’s to reassure ourselves by creating a ‘foot in the door’ that’s unlikely to seal the deal.

The best thing to do after that initial meeting is to request another one with the final decisionmaker (and that’s when we realize that it would have been easier to start with him or her rather than working our way up…).


That point illustrates the confusion between the concepts of speed and direction.

In business, everything pushes us to focus on the clock: targets, closing dates, pressure from the hierarchy… which itself is under the same pressure (only worse). In life in general, knowledge of our inevitable death makes us obsessed with the passage of time.

So it’s logical, but often stupid in business.

At every stage, the question that we should be asking isn’t: “What would help me move faster?”, but rather “What will get me as close as possible to my ultimate goal?”

Making a proposal to a non-decisionmaker doesn’t lead anywhere. It makes us feel like we’re moving forward with our sales process and hides the fact that the prospective client isn’t moving forward with its procurement process. In contrast, arranging a meeting with the final decisionmaker, even when it will take three months, does make sense.

I’m not saying that timing isn’t important. Just that we need to decide on the best next step first and then work on the timings to try to get ahead.


Better to go slowly in the right direction than quickly in the wrong one (quickly in the right one is good too).

In any case, I’m convinced that the client remains in control of the timings. In exchange, we can set out the stages. (Of course, if we wake up when a call for tender is launched, we’re not going to control either one…)


Every time the client mentions the clock, we need to bring them back to the compass.

‘What’ takes precedence over ‘when’. That’s not a new sales technique, but two competing ways of thinking.

To illustrate the point again, here’s a sales classic: as the meeting comes to an end, our contact concludes by saying “Let me think it over, call me in three months.” How should we respond?

Answer A: “Why wait three months, let’s catch up in six weeks… in fact, let’s set a provisional meeting in our diaries, perhaps the week beginning…”

Answer B: “I don’t have a problem with that. I can leave you to think it over for three months, six months, or even eighteen months if you want. Just tell me one thing: what will you be thinking over?”

François Drillon




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