Chapter 2: The 15 Minute Rule

My father was a carpet salesman when I was growing up.  He traveled around the southeast selling carpet as a manufacturer’s rep.  He worked hard and was gone a lot and at some point he just got tired of driving that old brown Chrysler station wagon filled with carpet samples from store to store day after day.  He tried another business once but a crooked partner and a down economy left his business busted and left him burdened with a ton of debt.

It was one of those rare occasions in the summer time when I had dropped by my parents’ house for dinner that I learned that dad was going to try being self-employed again.  He had started a floor covering venture and he would work it out of the basement of the house until a time when he could afford to rent a space.

It was an exciting time for him and he wanted my brother to go to work with him.  At the time my older brother was working for Bell South.  He was collecting change from pay phones and he was in line to become a supervisor. (Yes I’m old enough to remember pay phones and when the change went from ten cents a call to twenty five cents a call … highway robbery!)

Well, he had no interest in working with dad on a fledgling business.  He was moving up in the world, he was about to be in ‘management’.  On the other hand, I was not in management.  I didn’t have any real direction.  I was working but was never happy where I worked.  I was ‘too smart’ to do the jobs I was hired for.

I could ‘do better’ than my managers.  Seems that the disrespect I had shown my father growing up became a complete dismissal of all authority figures in my life.   Seeing this and understanding that he had created this independent streak, in his wisdom my father invited me to work with him instead of my brother.

You know how the story goes.  I jumped at the chance to become an entrepreneur.  Heck, I didn’t even know how to spell the word entrepreneur but I knew I wanted to be self-employed, making my own way, living a life where I was in control … as I look back at my immaturity at that time I can only think what a dangerous thing that was.  (chuckle)  So here’s the story of my first day on the job.

My father loved Waffle House.  I think he obtained an affinity with the diner chain when he was on the road as a traveling salesman.  They’re open 24 hours a day and they are always a safe haven for anyone on the road in the wee hours of the morning.  When I accepted his offer to work with him in his new venture he decided we needed to meet to start our day off right.

Our first meeting was to be at a local Waffle House at 5:30 in the morning.  I laughed and said okay and as I drove away from mom and dad’s house to meet some friends for a beer I remember thinking how crazy it was that my dad wanted to meet that early.  But I think he had a plan, there was a lesson already brewing and I would learn and learn it well.

Knowing my father to be an early riser I reasoned in my mind that he always went to the Waffle House for a little breakfast.  Of course to this day I don’t know if that’s true but in my mind that’s what I decided was true.  You see, I was going out with the boys to celebrate my new life as an entrepreneur.  I was going to be out late.  Surely he was joking, if I showed up a little later he’d be done with breakfast and then we could talk and get our day started.

So I went out and it was a late one.  After about three and half hours of sleep I got up at precisely 5:30AM.  A splash of water and a shave and I was out the door in a wrinkled Izod and pair of jeans.  I arrived at the Waffle House a fashionable 15 minutes late.  Dad was in a window booth and as I strolled up to the table full of excitement he glanced up and said; “You’re late.”  I chuckled and replied; “You weren’t serious were you?”

Well as a matter of fact he was serious.  When I sat down I noted that he had a yellow legal pad of paper out with notes scribbled all down it.  He had a half empty cup of black coffee, an empty bowl of grits and he was just finishing off a plate of raisin toast with apple butter.  The breakfast of road king champions all over this great nation!  What I also noted was somewhat alarming.  Where I sat there was a cup of coffee, a bowl of grits and an order of raisin toast with apple butter.

It was alarming because at this time in my life I didn’t drink coffee, the grits were so cold that the butter on top had congealed and “what the heck were those little dead flies doing embedded in my toast?”  Oh yeah and one other thing, can anyone tell me who invented apple butter?  What is the genesis of thought that leads one to that invention?  But I digress, back to the story.

I was alarmed and asked if the items were for me.  My father politely smiled and said yes, he had ordered them for me when he arrived.  We had a lot to accomplish and he wanted to make sure we got breakfast out of the way before we started our day.  Around the time he got finished explaining that this was my breakfast the waitress came over.  She was a very sweet lady, she poured my father some more coffee and then she turned to me; “Oh dear” she said with a slight southern accent.  “Let me get you some warm grits and a new coffee and can I get you some fresh toast as well?  You poor thang?”

Side thought:  Lets not forget that I had never drank a cup of coffee before in my life!  I didn’t even know what it was supposed to taste like but I did know that you weren’t supposed to drink it cold and black … at least not back in those days.  That was before Starbucks and $5 Cup of Joe.  In those days coffee sat on the burner for hours until it got rich and thick with slight acidy/oily sheen on top and a crust on the bottom.  Ah, coffee!  I can smell the burn right now!

Sorry for that moment of reverie …  Just as I was getting ready to accept June’s generous offer and service my father rang in.  “No June, that won’t be necessary.  I think he likes it just like that… and no cream or sugar in that coffee, he’ll have to learn how to drink it black!” then with a pregnant pause and a smile he went on… “You see June, we were scheduled to meet here at 5:30 and he showed up late and there are consequences when you show up to an appointment late.  This is one of them.”  With that he looked me dead in the eye and said; “Eat up son.  We’ve got work to do!”  I ate and drank every last ice cold, gelatinous bite.  All I can say is; LESSON LEARNED!

Antique pocket watch - closeup on very old pocket watchThe Lesson:

The lesson that came out of all this?  Don’t be late!  As a matter of fact even if you are on time you are late.  You need to be at every appointment at least 15 minutes early, especially if you are in sales.

Let’s take away from the discussion all the standard things we know about being late.  It’s rude.  It shows disrespect for the other person or people.  Let’s go a little deeper and understand why we all need to learn the 15 Minute Rule and adhere to it like our lives depended on it.

Here are the reasons why you should adopt the 15 Minute Rule.

  1. Your client will almost never be late.  As a matter of fact, in most situations your client will be early!  Let that sink in for a moment … no really, stop reading and let it sink in … They will almost always be early.  Typically 5 to 10 minutes early.  So what does that mean for you?  The superstar salesman?  Not so much, in your customer’s eyes, when you show up after them you become Johnny Come Lately.  Just another slick person whose to busy to care about them.
  2.  The start of the appointment sets the tone for success.  You should arrive at the appointment at least 15 minutes early.  If the appointment is in your office then you should prepare for the meeting at least 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  If you start the appointment relaxed, prepared and ready to address the client’s needs and objections your chances for success are exponentially higher.
  3. Your client will feel you care.  And if the customer starts the appointment relaxed with a feeling that you are a true professional they are less likely to be critical.  Instead of seeing negatives in your product or service offering they are more likely to see the positives and not pick you apart.

Want to sign more deals?  Want to rise to the top of your game?  Then adhere to this one rule and you should see your close ratio begin to rise.