I rang a tree surgeon the other day to get a quote to cut back two sycamores looming over our house. (Bear with me on this).
His immediate reply was this. “I can’t do that till at least the middle of December. I’m short staffed and am really, really busy.”
“Oh, OK.” I replied. “Never mind then.” And I hung up.
Golden rule (or maybe a silver one). Never say what you can’t do.
It’ll lose you a customer.
What if that tree surgeon had said this instead…?
“Sycamores, eh? Lovely trees, but can be a bit intrusive. Why don’t I come out and take a look as soon as I can, get you a quote, then if you’re happy we can schedule you in before Christmas?”
What a difference that would have made – even though we still have exactly the same situation.
He may still be very busy. He may still be short staffed. But they weren’t my problems – they were his. In the first scenario, he didn’t offer me a solution – he simply talked about his problems, all the while giving off negativity, so I just went away.
Because that’s what I felt he wanted me to do.
Never be too busy.
Make sure you explain when and how you can help.
In the second scenario, he still might not work on my trees till after the middle of December. But because it’s now “before Christmas”, I’m happy with that.
I might have wanted it done in November (this conversation being in mid October), but I’m happy to wait because I liked his attitude. And – crucially – I’m happy to wait because I felt he wanted me as one of his customers.
Now add in the fact that he’s clearly busy (though he didn’t tell me, it’s implied), and I assume he’s in demand and has lots of customers to look after, so he must be good at his job.
Bingo! Wonderful perception to leave behind.
Odd that I didn’t get that same feeling in the first scenario. Hmmm…. All a matter of communication.

Dealing with availability (or lack of) in a business or B2B environment

Feeding this conversation back to my husband that evening, we compared it to our own lines of work.
As a director in a large engineering consultancy, with responsibility for both project delivery and bringing in new clients – it immediately struck a chord with him.
“We come across this a lot. Clients or prospects want something done yesterday and of course we already have work scheduled in and engineers committed to other projects. I’ve had to teach quite a few of my team how to respond positively on availability. Absolutely no teeth sucking and frowning. Definitely no “Ah, I doubt if we can do that until next spring….” or the real classic “It’s a shame you didn’t come to us last month, we could have got straight onto it then”. ”
He continued, “How is any of that going to help anyone? The client still needs the work done, and we still want their work. All we need to do is think a little more carefully about how we respond when we are really busy.”

Discussing what the best responses would be, we came up with these pointers.

  1. Always be (honestly) interested in the work, however busy you are. That is just an hour or so out of your week – and that time may make the difference between keeping and losing a potential client.
  2. When clients ask for ‘done yesterday’ or ‘ASAP’, treat the conversation as meaning ‘as soon as you are able’. That keeps you in the right mind-set for a good result.
  3. Never panic and lie. Don’t say you can do it this week, when you clearly and absolutely can’t. Over-promising and under-delivering is the worst possible outcome. (Clients have memories like elephants for suppliers who do that.) Do, however, tell them when you can definitely do it by – then bring that forward if at all possible.
  4. Your first responses need to begin to solve their problem. Tell them when you can meet to take an extended brief. Tell them when you can start on the work (even if not yet clear exactly when you complete it).
  5. Bigger projects typically run in stages. Talk about which specific elements you can start and/or complete in order to get the project moving.
  6. Explain to them how they can help you meet their timescales. Is there some prep they can do? A clearer briefing? A chunk of the work they can do internally – perhaps with a bit of guidance or lighter input from you – until you are ready to begin?

There are so many ways to respond to a client when you’re busy, so that they still feel like a valued customer or prospect – and not like someone causing you a problem.
You might need to break a habit or two (in yourself or your team) to get there, but it’s simple, doable stuff.
When you’re really too busy – spread the love!
There are other options open to you when you’re very definitely too busy to take on the work at all – it just may take a little time and effort….
Your first and possibly your best option, because two people will love you for it, is to get out and find another great business that does what you do and refer the client to them.
You’ve got to be careful here though, and don’t just refer them to a similar firm willy nilly, because (rather ironically) your reputation is still involved here. If it doesn’t work out for the client, some of their ill feeling will bounce back towards you, however unfair that feels.
So you need to do your research carefully.
Find a firm with the same sort of ethos or values as you do, a similar price point and standards, and (if possible) a similar general approach to the work. Meet with them, get to know them, check out the whites of their eyes and ideally arrange a mutual quid pro quo for you both to refer.
When this works, it’s brilliant. And worth all the time you spent finding that other business.
It keeps the clients happy – the work gets done to the standard they wanted. It keeps you happy – because you never have to let a prospect down. And it keeps the other firm happy – they get your overflow work.
Now, what’s not to love about that?
The author
Kim Mason – that’s me. I’m a sales and marketing consultant based in Hampshire, UK. I love SMEs, B2B and content. I’m (perhaps absurdly) attempting to impart all the experience and knowledge I’ve gained through making a lot of mistakes in new business over to anyone who wants help to acquire new clients – so they a) don’t make the same mistakes I made and b) never need to hire me.
It’s taking longer than I thought, which probably means I’m older than I feel…
If you need more than an article or two to get your new business strategy back on track, you can always call me on 07827 297569 or email me at kim.mason@allthingsnewbiz.co.uk
Or have a more thorough read at www.allthingsnewbiz.co.uk.