Customer Discovery Conversations While Driving Are Not a Good Idea

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development

Q: I want to make maximum effective use of my time. I have an hour of commute most days and have been listening to podcasts but I have been considering using the time to make customer discovery or sales calls. Do you have an recommendations on the best way to do this?

I think it’s a not a good idea to initiate a customer discovery conversation when you cannot be fully present and cannot take notes. That does not mean that you have to be face to face (although you learn a lot more from a face to face conversation) but I think it’s difficult to catch the nuance of the conversation when you are driving–even it you are just waiting for the light to change.

If you have a purely informational message and are looking for a simple yes/no/number answer (e.g. calling your spouse to ask if you need to pick up anything at the store on the way home) then a quick call saves everyone time and disappointment. But I can see this calling while driving approach going awry quickly if you get a new question from a prospect that you cannot give your attention to because someone is trying to change lanes in front of you or a pedestrian may or may be about to step off the curb or there may be a child chasing that ball that bounced across the road two seconds ago.

In my experience B2B sales conversations are expensive to arrange and difficult to “do over” if you don’t fully engage. You often hear about how it’s a numbers game but most markets are small towns where there are not that many folks you can call at a given time that are ripe for making a change. It can be difficult to recover from a poor first impression; if you follow up when they are considering making a change.

For any successful and most educational–and by educational I mean “those things which hurt also teach”–discovery calls I am taking notes contemporaneously. I understand how a headset can make the conversation hands free but how do you take notes about important issues, questions, or commitments that you need to address in a follow up?

Seth Godin offered this advice in “Texting While Working

You’re competing against people in a state of flow, people who are truly committed, people who care deeply about the outcome. You can’t merely wing it and expect to keep up with them. Setting aside all the safety valves and pleasant distractions is the first way to send yourself the message that you’re playing for keeps

If you are competing against a team that’s not making calls while they are driving, who is more likely to learn something and to win the business?

If someone I am already doing business with calls with a quick update while driving that’s one kind of communication, but if someone I don’t know is clearly calling from a car or appears distracted or disinterested (whether or not I can tell they are driving) it’s much less likely I am going to go forward to explore a potential business relationship.

Don’t fall into a common trap of an  entrepreneurs focusing on trying to save time at trust building activities and not focusing on increasing their chance for success. Even though sales can be a “numbers game” thinking about it purely in those terms tends to minimize the amount of learning that takes place (trying the same tactics and approaches over and over again because everyone knows its a “numbers game”) and lessens the focus on building rapport and listening carefully to questions and objections (looking instead for “smarter prospects” by talking to more people because its a “numbers game”).”

The paradox of B2B selling is that it’s about people and relationships, not numbers. People think of consumer markets as more personal than business, but it’s the reverse. If you cannot make the time for a phone call when you are at your desk or somewhere that you can be fully present in the conversation, calling prospects from your car is unlikely to be well received.

We explored the implications of “Texting While Working” in a panel discussion with three entrepreneurs

Also “Talking On Your Cell Phone While Driving May Be Hazardous to Your Close Relationships” offers some additional reasons why a cell phone conversation while driving may work against improving trust in a relationship. Summaries available at

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