In this series, we explore the 7 Deadly Sins of the Australian Sales Conversation. The first sin: Coffee Catch-Ups.

Signed Contract with your soy latte? A sprinkle of Purchase Order on top?

It’s an Australian tradition – a catch up with a customer over a flat white with the hope of keeping a contact warm. There’s a little talk of business and a lot about the footy. They will even keep buying from you…as long as you’re still the cheapest option. Not to worry, just another mocha next week, then the account is safe and the boss is off your back…

The infamous Coffee Catch-Up has become a part of business culture, clogging up calendars five days a week. Sales professionals claim it’s a necessity for fostering the kind of relationship where customers will buy from them.

And Sales Leaders encourage it. They love to hear that teams are establishing close relationships with prospects; that something is working. They want to believe this activity will lead to deals closed and goals crossed. The busier sellers look, the better.

But are we kidding ourselves?

Relationship Builders make up only 4% of high performing salespeople in complex sales environments. So spending time on meetings that build social relationships actually means a lower likelihood of hitting target.

To be clear, the data does not show that coffee is bad for sales (*avoiding a lawsuit with Gloria Jeans) . But the type of meeting usually held over coffee is a relaxed, relationship-building, catch-up – “How are the kids?Oh by the way, how are things moving along with our proposal?”– Breezy is too easy. If the meeting is not driving the deal forward, it is not providing value to the customer – other than a free drink.

To make meetings productive, sales reps need to bring insight – providing information to the customer that they did not know or appreciate and that drives action and urgency. Sales reps absolutely must maintain the relationship, but a relationship built on new ideas and a clear understanding of the cost of inaction – “if you don’t do something now, it will hurt”.

Test the quality of the insight.

Many on the sales team will say, “But my coffee catch-ups are different, boss, mine are productive!” – how do you know if that’s true? Assess what actually happened. And what happens next. Here are 2 easy ways to do it:

  1. Ask the team what insight they will give their customer and how they will show them their cost of inaction.
  2. Ask them what verifier they are now looking for from that customer – what tangible action will the customer do that will prove they are taking the insight seriously.

If you are a sales leader, the next time you get an expense report for a customer’s espresso, don’t approve it until the seller can articulate how he or she progressed the deal forward… Or if a seller comes to you pleased because John from ABC Co. has agreed to 10mins at Coffee Club next week, sit down and work out what insight the seller plans to take to that meeting to drive action.

Don’t ban cappuccinos, but set the right expectations for customer meetings. Believe me, no amount of added sugar sweetens a missed target.

No insight? No customer verifier? No macchiato.

Tom Moss

Tom Moss

Tom is a Consultant at Challenger, and has worked out of our London and Sydney offices. He has advised senior commercial leaders at some of the largest companies in world on transforming their commercial strategies.