Are You Out Of Context?

context counts

Have you ever had a persistent telemarketer ruin your lunch hour by calling repeatedly? They’re annoying because they are out of your context of having a relaxing lunch. Let me illustrate with a story:

There is a “Wanted” poster with my dog Max’s photo on it at a fancy local country club. It lists his crimes as “theft, trespassing, and general menacing.” These “crimes” arose from an incident when he was 9 months old. Let me explain. Max and I were in a state park. He was off leash, and I was helping him run off some of his endless puppy energy. Agreeably, he came when called, and otherwise ran and jumped and played. Until “the sound.” A golfer had hit a ball, and he had to investigate.

He heard something, and went charging off. He jumped into a stream, scrambled up the other bank, and, covered in thick mud, started racing across a country club golf course, adjacent to the park and only separated by the stream. As I frantically ran to the bridge, I watched him elegantly lope across the golf course. Two men were on a putting green. One man putted. Max, a puppy who wanted to play, trotted over to the ball, picked it up, and ran off with it. The golfer raised his club, yelling and cursing.

The golf course was beautiful, wide, and seductive to my muddy puppy. He ran until he was out of sight. I followed what I hoped to be his course, and eventually found my muddy, smelly dog begging designer-clad club members for food on the stately patio. I put him on his leash and went away, followed by a barrage of lively comments from club members.

Max was out of context. Within his context, he was outside to play with his human. And play he did. Nonetheless, he was wrong. The objective context was that he was cavorting on private property and interrupting the afternoon for club members.

When sales pros approach prospects, we are often out of context. Our prospects are working within their own contexts, and don’t necessarily welcome a change in agenda. The very first part of our agenda should be discovering the context of our prospect in that exact moment. Are they up against a deadline? Networking at a luncheon? Filling an urgent need? Are they even happy to hear from us? Is what we’re pitching appropriate for the need the prospect is trying to fill? Unlike the telemarketer above, we don’t want to cram ourselves into someone’s attention at any cost.

It’s vital to the establishment of a good professional relationship that sales professionals place themselves within the context of the prospect and act accordingly. If this isn’t a good time, sympathize and schedule one that is. If they are having a brutal day, let them vent (and listen closely) before you introduce your agenda. If they are happy to see you, encourage them to expand on why, and how you can be of service to them right now. Present yourself in the context of their day, their needs, and their goals. When we’re out of context, we often gain the reputation of someone who “doesn’t listen.” Instead, we want to be considered someone who “gets it.” Context is key.