Ten roses for a tenner mate?” the scruffy lad shouts at me through the car window. “Naah thanks,” I mouth back. “Alright, 15 roses then!” he yells, signalling that I should wind down the window. “I don’t want any roses thank you,” I politely smile. “Alright you win, give me a fiver,” he yells as the lights turn to amber.

Seriously: this happened just the other day. And it made me laugh out loud when, as I drove away, I looked at his cart in the layby and noticed several bunches of lily stems now those I would have bought!

It’s a good example of how a failure to sell well causes you to fail spectacularly in the ensuing negotiation. As I had no need for roses and had not been persuaded otherwise, I held a strong negotiation position and watched the deal change in my favour. If the guy had tried to understand what type of flowers were of interest to me, I may have pulled over and bought some. I didn’t even know he had lilies.

Time pressure was on him, so he wanted to get a deal on the table quickly. I admire the fact that our flower boy had a specific proposal that enabled me to make a decision. It’s a shame that he used the wrong one. Especially as the right one was there for him.

Although marginally less oikishly, I see a similar thing going on in the supplier/customer interface. “This is it: it’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the century…”

You may say that the buyer doesn’t necessarily know what he or she wants until they can see it. In the case of unique innovation, that might be the case, but it’s still important to know their thoughts so that you can at least talk up the right features, making it appear that you’ve listened and made the benefits clear.

If flower-boy had started selling with something like, “these roses are grown organically and will last eight to 10 days” it would have been worse - that’s just guessing what’s important to me. Yet those who take marketing presentations into a sales call are doing the same. You have to ask questions in order to find out what the needs of the buyer are.

“Roses, lilies, or tulips mate?” Easy. Think I missed my calling?