It’s probably happened to you; it certainly has to me.

You’ve finally gotten a meeting with that extremely busy buyer, after waiting three weeks for her to clear 45 minutes in her schedule. Now, though, you’re sitting there, 10 minutes after your session was supposed so start, and time keeps ticking by. Her assistant assures you she’ll be there soon.

What do you do? Just keep patiently waiting, and when she breezes in 20 minutes later with a plausible excuse, assure her that it’s OK, that you understand?

Like so much in sales, it depends.

If the buyer really did run into a bona fide emergency, or, say, got stuck in an unexpected meeting with the boss, it’s one thing. But if you suspect that the buyer is engaging in a power play, you might consider a different response.

Eroding your authority

Here’s why. The buyer’s perception of you as an authority is critical to your success with the sale. And as blogger Michael Pici points out at Hubspot.com, letting the buyer significantly delay the call — even for ostensibly important reasons — saps your authority.

So instead of just accepting the delay your prospect has saddled you with, Pici suggests doing something else. When the person gets there, say something like, “I have another meeting in an hour (or whatever time frame you choose). You and I are going to need the full 45 minutes we agreed on, and now that looks iffy. How about rescheduling for tomorrow at this same time?”

Of course, you’re taking something of a risk here. The buyer may start hemming and hawing about availability, and end up suggesting two weeks from now. But if she does this, maybe you’re seeing an important signal that you and your offering aren’t as important to her as you thought, meaning that you haven’t qualified her thoroughly enough. Conversely, if the buyer agrees readily to reschedule, you know the person has a pretty good degree of interest.

Maintain some flexibility

Don’t be too hard-core about this. Five minutes isn’t going to kill either your presentation or your authority, and you don’t want to come across as unreasonably inflexible. You can wait an appropriate amount of time — which you might gauge by how long it takes you to start making random Google searches on your phone! — before deciding that you need to reschedule rather than present.

But once the time seems to drag, you should think about taking action to recapture control. And the best way to do this is to remind the buyer — firmly but politely — that they’ve thrown your schedule off, which is what you accomplish by rescheduling.

Oh, and by the way, the same control principle holds when it’s a meeting with more than one person at the buying organization, and somebody’s late arriving. In that case, suggest that you start without that person, but record the meeting so they can catch up later.

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