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The Secrets of a Waiting Room Jedi

The Secrets of a Waiting Room Jedi

Bringing an energetic blend of insight and humour, Tim Hurson teaches audiences what they already know in their hearts: that creative intelligence is the essence of human potential. Whether you’re a manager or an artist, whether you work alone or in a group, you’ll think better and do better by learning to unlock your creative intelligence—and “unblock” your thinking. With creative intelligence, good work becomes brilliant, and life opens up with a new sense of freedom, confidence, and possibility. In his most recent book, Never Be Closing, co-authored with Tim Dunne, “the Tims” share immediately usable sales advice based on decades of experience selling, consulting, and managing with global organizations. In the article below, they explain how sales people can make the most out of downtime:

It happens all the time. It’s happened to us, and it’s happened to you. More than once, guaranteed. It goes like this:

You’ve finally scheduled a meeting with that prospective client you’ve been after (or maybe a first meeting with a new client—where you’ll set the tone for your relationship).

And you’re ready.

You’ve done your research, both online and off. You’ve consulted with your analysts and your colleagues back at the shop. You’ve thought about what you can offer that your prospect might value. You’ve refined and rehearsed a short script or two. You’ve got your initial questions lined up. You’ve left yourself ample travel time to compensate for unexpected traffic. You’ve even used the facilities by the elevators, just in case.

You arrive at reception, you give your name, and you’re told by the employee behind the desk that unfortunately your meeting will be delayed because Ms. Bizzee is still on a previous call.

So far, not unusual. The question is, what do you do next?

If you’re like 99% of your competitors, you take a seat and do one or more of the following:

  • Review your notes for the meeting
  • Flip through a waiting room magazine
  • Pull out your smart phone and check your emails
  • Check your mobile contact manager
  • Listen to your voice mails
  • Check Facebook
  • Make a call
  • Complete your half-finished Sudoku puzzle
  • Check your email again

Hey, you’ve got some time to kill. Why not kill it?


One of most important sales skills we address in our book Never Be Closing is art and science of discovering what’s useful to your client. In our experience, your potential usefulness is the most important thing you can communicate—and the thing that will most likely win you the sale.

But the concept of usefulness goes way beyond your conversation with your client. It’s threaded through everything you do in the sales process. In fact, we suggest asking the simple question, ‘Is this useful?’ about every aspect of your own sales or business behavior. If your answer is ‘no’, ‘maybe’, or ‘not sure’, we suggest you seriously consider deleting that behavior from your repertoire.

Behavior Testing

Let’s use this simple test on the list of behaviors above.

Reviewing your notes for the meeting could be useful, but if you’re not familiar enough with them by this point, another few minutes probably won’t do you much good.

Flipping through a two-month-old waiting room magazine is decidedly unuseful. The exception here might be the possibility of finding a relevant article in a recent industry or corporate publication.

Checking your emails, your contact manager, or your voice mails? Psychologists would call these conditioned responses to having time on your hands. But useful? Who are we kidding?

Checking Facebook? Ditto.

Making a phone call? Maybe, but chances are you’ll have to say a quick good-bye, so is it really worth it?

And re-checking all of the above is about as useful as finishing that Sudoku puzzle. In other words—not.

So if none of these behaviors are particularly useful, the next question becomes, what could you do that would be useful?

Seeing with Jedi Eyes

Your clients’ offices—including reception and common areas—are their habitats, filled with clues about the company, its culture, the people you’ll be meeting. Sure, you’ve done research online and with your colleagues, but where better to begin to truly understand the people you’ll meet than where they spend the majority of their working—and waking—lives?

Being in your clients’ territory affords you the best possible opportunity to get to know who you’ll be meeting. You’re exposed to information and resources that simply aren’t available in company reports or on the internet. That’s pretty special, considering all your competitors have access to that same internet information.

Once you appreciate the value of spending time in your clients’ space, you’re ready to practice the art of the Waiting Room Jedi.

The first thing a Jedi needs to understand is the power of the Force. And in business, the Force is Connection. Anything and everything you can do to increase the connection between you and your potential client is a step in the right direction—a step toward the sale.

Finding Hidden Connections

If you had a first appointment with an important potential client and a friendly leprechaun offered you the opportunity to meet someone who knew your prospect, and who might be able to give you some useful information about them, you’d be delighted, wouldn’t you?

Well, today’s your lucky day. Because have the opportunity to do just that—every time you arrive early for a client meeting and every time your client is late.

Introduce yourself to the receptionist. We mean really introduce yourself. There’s a good chance the receptionist knows your prospect. If they’ve been with the company a while, receptionists can be a great source of useful information. They know who comes and goes. They know the culture of the organization. They know if times are good or times are bad. They know if executives and managers are part of the team or if they ride above it. They know when it’s an up day or a down day. Furthermore, receptions are often invisible in the waiting room, treated as just another piece of furniture. If they’re not too busy, they may really appreciate a chance to talk. Imagine standing face to face with a resource like that and deciding to check your email instead of talking to them!

How do you probe for information from the receptionist? Just ask. Clearly, your chances of getting under the sheets are limited (nor do we suggest you try; you risk coming off as inappropriately nosey, and even sleazy), but you can open the tent.

Here’s a list of simple starter questions that most receptionists should be able (and often happy) to answer:

  • How long has the company been at this location (or on this floor)? What was the reason for the move?
  • How many people work here? What kinds of jobs do they do? This can often lead to great follow-up conversations. If the location has both engineering and marketing in it for example, you can observe that that’s an unusual combination. Any reason for that?
  • What’s the biggest department or division in this location?
  • Is everyone always this (relaxed, friendly, energized, busy) around here, or is something special going on today?
  • What do you like best about working here?
  • Are the principals usually around, or mostly on the road? Do you get to see or talk to them much?

These are the kinds of questions you can work into almost any conversation and which can provide you with useful ways to make connections later in your meeting.

Imagine in your meeting with your prospective client being able to say something like, “I understand you’ve only been in this location for 18 months and you’re already bursting at the seams. Sounds like things are going well. Must be challenging to manage that kind of growth.”

Searching for Other Threads

Aside from these general starter questions, there are clues to the personalities of the company and its employees literally littering the walls. The artwork, the trophy case, the plaque, the photo of the ribbon cutting, the mission statement, the free (or maybe not free) 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 is a conversation starter with the receptionist or others you may meet. And each is a thread of a possible connection to your client. The more threads you discover, the better your chances of weaving them together into the beginning of a relationship.

Curiosity Killed the Can’t

The skill of being a Waiting Room Jedi is to transform a series of waiting room habits—checking email, posting on Facebook, and flipping through magazines—into a deliberate process of exploration and discovery.

More than anything else, being a Waiting Room Jedi is about being curious. The more genuinely curious you are, the more you learn, and the more you learn, the more likely you’ll be able to make connections with your client.

The attitude and skill the Waiting Room Jedi is one of a series of interlocking steps that form what we call the Productive Selling process. It starts with knowing who you are and why you’re selling. Then moves into finding, making, and developing connections. The next step is earning the credibility required for your clients to feel comfortable answering the tough, probing questions you’ll need to ask so that you can understand their situation. Once you truly understand your clients’ issues, itches, and challenges, the next step is to demonstrate your usefulness. Once you’ve done that, you can start developing a productive business relationship.

And after all, isn’t that what the best selling is all about?

By Tim Hurson and Tim Dunne/December, 2014