No. You Can't Buy Me Coffee

Our story begins with me at an industry event. I’m shaking hands, I’m smiling, I’m swapping business cards with people. I’m trying to represent the brand. I’m trying to meet potential new hires. I’m trying to learn from my industry peers.

Networking is networking, some like it, some don’t. I don’t particularly like it, but it’s good for the company and I can handle it.

Sadly, tragedy strikes my inbox within days of the event. It explodes with dozens of emails from all too eager salesmen offering to buy me a cup of coffee. And of course they’ll also introduce me to their yadda yadda service or their whatever-the-hell product. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s coffee among friends. They want to bend my ear, run something by, have a chat, pick my brain, they want to take me out.

Here’s the problem: we don't know each other.

This person isn’t an industry peer, he isn’t a current vendor, and he wasn’t referred by a trusted mutual friend. He is just a modern day Willy Loman who happened to steal a handshake and a business card.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. Sales is tough. At Nebo, we go through the pitching process all the time. It can be taxing, it can be brutal, but we don’t skip the process or violate social norms. We have faith in the value of our service and respect for each and every potential client.

The “let me buy you a cup of coffee” dude doesn’t respect the process. After only a polite nice to meet you (that I likely don’t remember), the guy is ready to cash in on our “friendship.” He offers to buy me a cup of coffee as if we were walking out of a Sunday morning pilates class. The $3 cup of coffee is not enough to bypass our regular means of vendor evaluation.

Dear Willy, allow the merits of your product to do the selling. Don’t try to shoehorn it through a coffee date and hope we won’t notice your flaws through the hazy glow of our newfound friendship.

Even if you are selling Hawks playoffs tickets (something I am totally interested in buying if anyone is selling Hawks playoffs tickets), don’t mix your business with my personal. Sitting down to coffee is something I do with family, friends, industry peers, and bright, young minds that I've met that are genuinely interested in learning about a career in digital.

Coffee is a beautiful thing. It's something to be savored. Enjoyed. Shared with people who I want to have real conversations with.

It is not a tactic.

Your offer puts me in an awkward position and forces me to be rude. I can’t say “Hey, we already have a solid relationship with XYZ vendor, but let’s stay in touch.” I can’t say “We’re actually evaluating XYZ service providers, let me hook you up with the right person at Nebo to talk.”

Instead I have to say no. No, I won’t accept your cup of coffee. No, I won’t talk about the weather with you. No, I won’t take an hour out of my day for you. Instead of rejecting your product, I now have to reject you.

But, alas, my answer will always be no.*

And not just no ---  F-bomb no. So stop the offers. Don’t make me hate you. Don’t make you hate yourself. You’re better than that, Willy. Chin up.

It’s not personal, so please, don’t make it something that is.

*DISCLAIMER: Please disregard everything above if you are in fact a coffee salesman.

Written by Brian Easter on April 22, 2015


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Joel, thanks for reading. I think we agree a lot more than we disagree. Yes, we do pitch at Nebo. But, as I say in the blog, we do not skirt the pitching process. I want to be clear, I value sales people and I understand the meaningful work they do. The Willy Lomans I refer to are not sales people, they’re hucksters. They don’t do their research. They don’t leverage real relationships to create opportunities. If I meet a sales person at a networking event and we have a meaningful conversation, I might be game to get a cup of coffee. I sure won’t be offended if they invite me to one. The situation I describe in the blog is one where we met so briefly that I don’t even remember it happening. You wrote that the people who accept your invitations to meet for coffee do so because you set very clear expectations upfront. In the situation I described, there are no clear expectations. There is no relationship on which to build. A coffee invitation from a stranger puts me in the awkward position of saying no to the person instead of the product. It sounds like you’re doing things the right way.

Wow. Interesting point of view. I can understand the bad behavior you encounter in a networking setting. People you meet have no interest in you; they are only interested in shoving a biz card in your face. That's not networking. Nor is it prospecting. That's just lousy behavior. Here's where I gotta disagree with the author - You just told your own sales team they are a bunch of "Willy Lomans." If you are "pitching" your own prospects you are engaging in the very sort of behavior you seem to disdain. The behavior and outlook you appear to exhibit is quite likely what they tolerate daily from their own prospects, your potential new customers.

The people that accept my invite to meet for a cup of coffee do so because we set some very clear expectations up front- I want to hear their story, understand their business and possibly introduce them to others in my circle they would benefit from knowing. I learn at the feet of some extremely knowledgeable people. It's a mindset issue - I sense from what your wrote you dislike networking likely because too many people try to sell rather than connect. I'm getting the impression you don't like to meet for coffee perhaps because you feel you are being set up to be sold.

Pretend for a moment you really did need what they had, you just didn't know it at the time. How would you know it then? Products and services cannot stand on their own merits until a conversation occurs about the problems a product or service helps solve or mitigate. That requires a conversation and usually it starts over a cup of coffee. At their office. But that's me.

What if they were to offer you, say, a nice herbal tea? Now THAT would be different, wouldn't it?

Kyle Mears says:

Brilliant read. Simple, to the point, and a great perspective for struggling salespeople to learn from.

They usually want to buy you the worst cup of coffee.

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Written by
Brian Easter