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In a Restaurant: Sellers Behaving Badly

Most casual dining restaurant chains run secret promotions.

These promotions are sometimes a secret to you, the diner. They're not a secret to your server, though, who has been drilled to generate orders for these promotional items.

Usually, there's a special drink, a special appetizer, a special entrée and a special dessert. If you ask "what do you recommend?" the server is supposed to suggest these items. Servers even get incentives and prizes for posting the highest number of promo sales.

At a recent lunch meeting, I observed a stark contrast between two servers. They reminded me how sellers often misunderstand what it means to lead a buyer.

The server who was probably going to win the "most promos sold" contest was working the table behind me. Let's call her Ashley.

The server for our table was probably at risk of being reprimanded for not selling enough promos. Let's call him Jake.

Jake greeted us with "Hi, I'm Jake, and I'll be your server today. Can I get you a drink to get started?"

Less than 30 seconds later, Ashley opened with "Hey, y'all, I hope you're hungry today because we've got somethin' special on our summer menu that I know you'll just love." This was followed by a chirpy description of a frothy drink and a detailed dissertation about her "favorite ever" appetizer.

Jake was back with our beverages before Ashley paused to take a single breath.

After Jake described the summer special appetizer and entrees, we told him we needed more time to look at the menu. He came back about five minutes later.

During that gap, Ashley circled back to her table three times. Once with drinks, once to see if anyone changed their mind and wanted to order her "favorite ever" appetizer, and once to show them the "super yummy" dessert they needed to save some room for.

Jake took our orders, never missing a beat when my friend asked for several modifications to her order due to dietary restrictions. He was helpful, efficient and accommodating.

When Ashley came back for the fifth time, she was relentless. She was absolutely determined to sell the summer special entrees whether her diners wanted that or not. The conversation went something like this:

Ashley: "So who's gonna try one of our summer specials? It's only available for a limited time."

Diner 1: "I don't really care for heavy sauces. I think I'll have a..."

Ashley: "Well, I can get that sauce on the side for you."

Diner 1: "No... I'll go with the grilled..."

Ashley: "Um, I just want to be sure you noticed that price. It's, like, $7 more than the special."

Diner 1: "Yes. I see that. I'd also like to have the small Caesar salad, please."

Ashley: "And for you, sir? Let's see if I can guess what you want from our summer specials menu. How about..."

Diner 2: "Actually, we are in a bit of a hurry. Could you just bring me the same as my wife?"

Ashley: "Sure. Since you're in a hurry, shall I go ahead and order up that dessert for you?"

Diner 1: awkward silence

Diner 2: awkward silence

Over at my table: awkward attempts not to burst out laughing

Ashley: "Well, I'll let you think about it. Be back in jiffy with your salads!"

In my opinion, both Jake and Ashley are sellers behaving badly.

Ashley for obvious reasons. I mean, really, you've got to consider what your clients actually want instead of pushing so obnoxiously to sell what you want them to buy. This is a classic example of a seller who is in it for the short-term gain. She's hurting the company's brand with her approach and probably limiting what she could make in tip money, too.

Sellers often behave badly when the company incentivizes one product so heavily that it's easy to lose sight of doing what's right for the buyer.

On the other hand, Jake didn't really do his job. He mentioned the specials but didn't do anything to lead us to them. He spoke about them in a perfunctory, matter-of-fact way that was barely interesting and certainly wasn't inspiring.

Sure, Jake did a good job of being a server. He just didn't make any effort to be a seller. Had he circled back to offer the "super yummy" dessert before bringing us the check, I would have been tempted. He may have made a sale.

I see sellers do this quite often when a particular product is pushed by management. Sellers who want to provide what their buyers need will resist representing products that seem more self-serving. Sometimes they miss sales because they are more focused on resisting the product push than they are on considering the fit for some buyers.

The perfect balance is somewhere in between Ashley and Jake. Ashley's efforts were over the top... but at least she tried. Jake's avoidance of selling ended up being good service for us but out of step with his company's requirements.

How do you stack up? Are you over-selling? Over-servicing? Or striking the perfect balance?

Check back every week in August for more stories about Sellers Behaving Badly in the CONNECT2Sell Blog.

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Topics: connect2sell, CONNECT2SELL Blog, customer service, sales, selling

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