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Appointment Scheduling: The Nuances of Perceived Demand

· decision science,prospecting,behavioral science

Picture this. You’re walking down the street (post-Covid) craving a good coffee.

Up ahead, there are two coffee shops you’ve never heard of...one on the left, one on the right.

The one on the left looks empty from the outside.

The one on the right, though, is buzzing. You see people out front and people hanging out through the window.

Which one do you go to?

After coffee, you walk out and there’s a street performer on the corner performing alone. Sounds great, but you don’t make eye contact and keep walking.

A half-a-block later, there’s a crowd around another. You stop to take a look, stay a few minutes to consume the performance, then donate a dollar in the empty guitar case sitting out front.

What draws you to the restaurant on the right, when the coffee in the shop on the left could have possibly been better?

What made you stop to enjoy the second performer, when the first may have been better?

Both are subconscious forces under the umbrella of “social proof”.

Social proof is a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behavior in a given situation. The term was coined by Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book Influence, and the concept is also known as informational social influence.1

In other words, we like to use other people's brains!

We use other people's brains to assume they've done the homework already.

We use other people's brains to reduce the homework our own brains have to do.

It's why reviews work on a website - not just both the positive & negative reviews, but in many cases, the quantity of the reviews.

And in our selling efforts, it can have a profound influence as well.

Being the nerd I am, I could write a whole chapter on the subject - how we, as selling professionals, create conflict in the buying brain as it relates to social proof:

- How we try to create social proof through our NASCAR slides and our case studies like the nerd in the corner shouting,

"Hey, look at me! I'm cool! See? Cool people like me!"

- How we negotiate case studies into our contracts? "We'll give you the discount if you commit to doing a case study." <-- The minute you say those thirteen words is the minute your prospect just asked themselves,

"Did they pay for the case studies they used to sell me, too?"

But for today, I want to talk about just one way - and it's a real head slapper.

In how you schedule your appointments...

The Lonely Sales Rep

"Any time next week works for me. Just pick a time, and I'll make it work."

Or, what may be even worse, having a calendar scheduling app, where EVERY SINGLE APPOINTMENT option is available, as did this rep's:

Yes - this is a real screen shot I took from a sales rep's Calendly link. Literally every single time, from 9am - 5pm, every single day for as long as I could schedule was available.

Except, of course, 12pm-1pm was never an option...I mean, the guy's gotta eat.

Imagine needing heart surgery. You call the doctor, and the office says, "When do you want to come in? Pick a time! We'll make it work!"

You'd probably think, "Hmmm, you must suck at this."

When my mother needed knee surgery, she was upset at how long she had to wait for the surgery. The doctor was booked up for six weeks. My brother & I were both thinking, "it's a sign that this doctor must be good." - for no other reason than it was hard to get an appointment.

Alinea, a 3-Michelin-star-rated restaurant here in Chicago, releases reservations at 11 a.m. Central on the 15th of each month, two months in advance. You can dine alone if you want, but you get only a single seat, and must choose 8pm. Otherwise, you must pay for a table of 2, 4 or 6. If you are a party of 3, that's fine...you're still paying for 4. While the food is certainly excellent, the magnetism this restaurant creates due to it's allure of being difficult to get into is palpable.

We think we're creating the ultimate convenience for the prospect - a world in which time is no obstacle.

However, the countereffect of appearing as though nobody else is meeting with you starts you off with a perception of being the coffee shop on the left!

I'm not suggesting you lie.

I am suggesting you reep the benefits of being more specific in the actual scheduling process with a prospect or client for the many benefits that come along with it - for both you, and the prospect.

When setting an appointment, suggest specific times.

"How does Thursday at 10am or Friday at 1pm work for you?"

This has four positive effects, aside from creating the perception of being "in-demand":

1) Conversation Shift: If the answer is no, the conversation has switched from "whether or not you're going to meet" to "when". At this point, suggest additional times - that's fine.

2) Schedule control: By providing available times that fit your schedule, you maintain control and can be best prepared to do your best on the call. Nothing like having a prospect say, "Ok, how's 7pm on Friday night work?" That would suck. Or, selecting a time that butts right up against another meeting, so you aren't able to prep properly?

3) Schedule value: By suggesting times, you subconsciously communicate that your schedule is also important. The relationship isn't meant to be boss/subordinate, it's two equals.

4) "Overchoice" reduction: When faced with too many options, our brains often fail to make a decision.

When using a scheduling app, limit options.

If you are using a scheduling app like Calendly or Hubspot, and your schedule is wide open, I would suggest limiting the hours by which someone can choose a time slot - and align those hours to when you know you're at your best.

I know, I know - that sounds sooo counterintuitive.

However, I know I'm at my best between 9:30am - 12pm, and then again late afternoon. Around 2pm each day, if I haven't grabbed a cup of coffee, I'm typically not feeling quite as sharp.

When scheduling important meetings, if my schedule was wide open, I would absolutely focus the options I provide to a prospect or client to mid-morning or late afternoon.

In all cases, if the client's availability doesn't match up, be flexible - of course!

The lesson, however, is: Don't be the coffee shop on the left. Don't create the impression that you are the lonely nerd in the corner of your home-office with nobody to talk to.

It's a simple shift with tremendous benefit: be specific with appointment options, draw the prospects in, control your own schedule, and do your best work when you are at your best!

What do you think? When someone has a busier schedule than someone who's "wide open", does your perception shift? What other ways do sellers get this wrong?

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