Sales Essentials Blog

Cringeworthy: how arrogance and ‘seniority’ destroy sales

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Here is a senior manager’s account of a real life, cringeworthy example of when a so called ‘experienced’ senior consultant completely stuffs up a prospective client meeting despite the young graduate, a millennial from the vendor’s company, sitting in the meeting with them instinctively knowing better and trying to do the right thing by the client and the company:

“One of the graduates from our team went out with a senior consultant on a prospective client meeting. Throughout the meeting the senior consultant was ignoring the prospective client and just trying to push one of our products. The graduate, noticing the awkwardness of the situation, decided to step in and tell the prospective client that we could meet their exact needs with some customised work. This changed the dynamics of the meeting as the prospective client became immediately interested in what the graduate was proposing, however, this was short-lived as the senior consultant pooh-poohed the idea in the meeting in front of both the client and graduate and went back to trying to sell in the generic product that didn’t really meet the prospective client’s needs. 

“Needless to say the graduate was mortified and we didn’t get the sale. The graduate relayed the situation to me afterwards and felt completely powerless to do anything constructive in the meeting because they were over-powered by the senior consultant who was completely uninterested in the client’s requirements and only interested in their own agenda. Which is when I decided to call you as we really need help to overcome this dreadful approach to sales.”

I have heard about and seen this example play out too many times to ignore it as an aberration.

Despite the plethora of information promoting and endorsing customer centricity, collaboration, and partnerships, arrogance coupled with an ‘I know best’ approach and lack of respect for others still exists in many businesses. 

Often confused with self-confidence, arrogance and ‘I know best’ are destructive behaviours that destroy relationships.

The senior consultant in this scenario was displaying arrogance and an ‘I know best’ approach which is what destroyed the sales opportunity. While the graduate was showing they were genuinely listening to the client, seeking to find common ground, showing empathy and creativity, collaborating and finding a real solution to their needs and priorities. Being a young graduate with little real time experience may not garner confidence in itself, however, the young graduate knew instinctively what to do – that is to find a way to help people. It is hard-wired into our biology to want to help people. This graduate was doing what came naturally to them and was very frustrated and horrified when they couldn’t do what was required.

Why didn’t the young graduate’s ideas trump the senior consultant’s?

Most likely seniority, experience, and a hefty dose of arrogance and self-interest disguised as self-confidence won the day but lost the sale.

I do not think the graduate lacked in self-confidence, I mean they stood up for their ideas and made them known. Credit to them, however, the arrogance and seniority of the senior consultant quashed whatever momentum was ignited by the graduate. Awkward indeed.

This is where experience and seniority can be our downfall.

‘Father knows best’ is a common expression that can ring true in many situations but then again it may not.  It all depends. This young graduate was far more mature and insightful than their senior counterpart in this instance, but because they lacked seniority and so-called experience they were dismissed as irrelevant by an arrogant self-serving person. Pity for everyone concerned.

This is our challenge: when to defer to experience and seniority and when to express our confidence to be brave enough to bring new ideas and be open to a fresh approach.

In this instance, the best approach would have been to create a coaching scenario, whereby the senior consultant and the graduate would have approached the situation together by seeking to understand the client’s priorities and then together work out how they would help the client with the best solutions for their situation. Now imagine that scenario. Everyone wins. The self-confidence, knowledge, insights and experience of everyone is lifted. It’s a win:win for everyone.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.


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