Field Trips, Junior Highers and Engaging the Buyer

Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to chaperon 3 school field trips with my children.  All three trips were overnight: one with 5th graders, one with 8th graders, and one with seniors.  And I have to admit…I love going on these trips. I get one-one-one time with my kids. I get to hang out with their friends, and get to know them a little better. And I even get to act like a bit of a kid myself now and then. In short, I like field trips.

There is one thing, however, that I DON’T like about these trips:  The disengaged parent chaperon.  You know the type…they sit in a corner, play on their mobile device, and the only time they talk is either to yell at the kids, or complain about some aspect of the trip. I want to scream at them, “Why on earth did you come on this trip anyway?!?!?  You’re miserable, and you’re making the rest of us miserable.  Why don’t you just go home?!?!?  The kids don’t really want you here anyway”.  And they don’t. You can tell by the way the roll their eyes, or completely ignore these kinds of chaperones. I witnessed this firsthand when I was in Philadelphia with my daughter’s 8th grade class.

During one of our tours, a squirrely 8th grader was doing his best not to pay attention to our tour guide.  He found much more enjoyment in climbing on all the things around us that could be climbed on.  At one point, one of the disengaged moms hissed at him, telling him to pay attention. He ignored her, rolled his eyes, and went back to his climbing.  Then she looked at me and said, “I’ll handle the girls. YOU can handle him”.  I turned to the young lad and simply asked, “Hey man, can you pay attention for just a few minutes?”. “No problem” he said. I really didn’t have any problems with him from that point on. As a matter of fact, we had a great time together the rest of the trip. So, why was it that I got him to pay attention where the other mom couldn’t? Well, I think there were a few factors…

  • First, I tried to understand his mindset. Let’s face it…making an 8th grader listen to an elderly tour guide tell you about Ben Franklin in the middle of downtown Philly is, in essence, putting him into an intellectual straight jacket.  I never once thought, “Why won’t he pay attention?” Instead, I thought, “Why WOULD he pay attention. He’s in 8th grade. He’s probably thinking, ‘Check out that car?  This tour guide probably knew Ben Franklin personally.  When’s lunch?  That girl is cute.  What language is that hot dog vendor speaking?’ ”  Putting myself in his mind helped me understand him a little better.
  • I focused on his well being. As he continued to not pay attention, I really asked myself only 2 questions about this young man:  1) Was he doing anything to hurt himself? 2) Was he showing our guide disrespect?  I knew that if he injured himself, he’d ruin the rest of his trip.  If he had been showing disrespect, because of school rules, he would have had to spend the rest of the trip at the side of one of the teachers…not fun for an 8th grader. I didn’t want either to happen to him, so my focus became him enjoying his trip.
  • I had a relationship with him. I’ve known this kid for many years, at an acquaintance level.  However, when I found out he was going to be in my group, I made a point to connect with him a little further. We had conversations about him, his interests, his family, his plans for next year etc. In essence, I enhanced the relationship. That relational connection, in his mind, gave me permission to speak into his behavior in a different way than the disengaged parent.
  • Respect.  I didn’t yell at him.  I asked him, gently.  I spoke to him in the way that any of us would want to be spoken to.

So, what does all of this have to do with marketing, sales, and engaging the buyer? Well, a lot actually. The factors I just described, if applied to how you approach your buyer(s), could help you move toward developing long term customers.  When it comes to marketing and selling to your buyers, like an engaged chaperone on a field trip, work to…

  • Understand their mindset.  Seek to understand how they feel, how they think, how they process the need for and the purchase of your services.  Ask yourself, “If I were them, what would I want from me”?  Using buyer personas, and defining the buying process can be of tremendous help here.
  • Focus on their well being.  We’ve all been on the receiving end of being sold to.  And we can sniff it out a mile away. So can your buyers.  So, stop trying. Instead, adopt a “them first” mindset. Seek to solve their problems. Seek to make their world better with what you provide.
  • Develop a relationship with them. I was recently in a buy-sell dynamic where I was the buyer.  The seller was fawning all over me, smiling, and being as gregarious as the day is long.  When I made my decision not to buy, the charm was turned off immediately.  To that sales person, I was not a potential long term relationship. I was a “one or done” sales opportunity. If there was any chance of me reconsidering down the road, it was lost right there.  Whether prospect or customer, build relationships with buyers that lead to mutual long term value.
  • Respect.  Buyers not only want to be heard, they want to be respected. Yet too often, messages, promotions, conversations, etc. are condescending. Or, we fail to listen, the ultimate sign of disrespect. Instead, marketing and sales should create communication dynamics that listen, obtain information and respond to the buyer at their level.

When it comes to engagement, 8th graders and buyers are not much different from each other.  The question is, what kind of chaperone are you going to be?