Your clients’ offices — including reception and common areas — are their habitats. They’re filled with clues about the company and its culture. Think of the waiting room as an anthropological research opportunity, where you’re exposed to resources that aren’t available in company reports or on the Web.
There are topics for discussion literally littering the walls. The artwork, the trophy case, the plaque, the photo of the ribbon cutting, the mission statement, the free soda machine (or the pay soda machine); even the building itself if it’s company owned. All of these are data about the founders, the principals, the charities, the activities, the culture of the office and the organization. Each item is a knot tied in the thread of a possible conversation. Each thread is a connection to your client. Weaved together they represent the relationship between you and your client. One starting point is striking up a conversation with the receptionist and learning something new about the company and the people in it. In Never Be Closing we call this being a Waiting Room Jedi.
Jane is a salesperson arriving for a meeting with a prospective client at Boston Sabre. Let’s see what kind of a waiting Room Jedi she is.
“Hello, I’m Jane Anders. Here to see Juan. You’re Mary?”
“Juan told me I’d recognize you by your smile. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise… Oh, it looks like he’s still on a call. I’ll check back in a few minutes. You can have a seat. Can I get you anything?”
Jane says, “No, I’m fine,” and sits down to wait.
The hell she does.
Why make this the end of their interaction? Instead, Jane initiates a conversation.
“I noticed the health club downstairs. Do a lot of people here use it?”
“We get a special rate for being in the building. So it’s a good deal.”
“Oh, has Boston Sabre been in here a long time?”
“Three years. As soon as we moved in, the health club offered us the discount. A lot of people joined.”
“Makes sense. Why’d you move?”
“The company? It was part of a reorganization where they separated corporate from manufacturing.”
Jane has a new piece of information about Boston Sabre. “Sounds like there’s been some growth.”
“You could say! We’re already looking for more space.”
Jane wanted to know more about the corporate culture. “Are there a lot of active people here?”
“You could say that too. We have company volleyball, basketball, and softball teams. It’s a young company, and we’re a pretty social place. The teams are a good way to burn off stress.”
Jane knew about stress. “You bet. . . . Do René or Juan play?”
“See that photo in the case. Juan’s the one getting the high fives. That was just after he hit the game winner for the league championship.”
Jane could see the energy in Juan’s face. “Looks like he likes to win.”
“You could say!”
In just a few minutes of friendly interaction, Jane was able to gather several business and personal conversation starters. What might she start to surmise about the things that energize Juan? And what are the chances she’ll mention the photograph in her conversation with him?
Of course, she could have spent the time checking her e-mail. But then she wouldn’t be Jane, Waiting Room Jedi.
It’s up to you whether you spend your waiting time in your client’s habitat checking your email or being an anthropologist — looking for clues to better understand the people you’ll be meeting with. Ask the receptionist questions about what you see. Say hello to people you run into. Introduce yourself, and tell them why you’re there. Use the restroom. Ask where you can get yourself a coffee. There is no standard list of avenues to discovery in the waiting room. The more curious you are, the more you’ll learn. It’s a simple equation.