Educating prospective clients is a necessary process for most of us. We need to explain what we do and how we do it. And sometimes we have to show our clients why it matters.
Teaching has long been a component of effective selling, but what’s often forgotten is that it’s teaching with a purpose. This was brought home to me when I encountered a gentleman whose business was unfamiliar to me. It was eye-opening. No, not so much because I was gaining clarity about what he did and how he did it, but because I found myself totally not caring.
It’s happened to you. I know it’s happened to me. Good intentions aside, it leaves us feeling badly about the encounter. Somebody asks you what you do…five minutes later you realize you’re droning on and they’re just north of comatose. You feel like you blew what might have been a good opportunity.
The culprit? You “Johnny Carson’d” them. You delivered a monologue and put them to sleep.
It Sounded Better In My Head
You live daily with your stuff. Your work. Your desires. Your goals. Your fears. Your life. It’s YOU, YOU, YOU 24/7/365. It can’t be helped really. Those two portholes serve to provide your constant view of the world. But it can be helped if you make the effort. You can begin approaching life from a different viewpoint. In fact, I’m encouraging you today to force yourself to look at the world through a different lens. Stop thinking about yourself and think about the person in front of you, the person on the phone, the person opening your email or the person viewing your website. It could even be the person listening to your podcast or watching your video.
It’s not about you. This is a ridiculously hard thing, requiring consistent training and discipline.
After you realize you’ve blown an opportunity by talking too much (I know I’ve done it plenty of times myself), you’re tempted to think, “It sounded pretty good when I rehearsed it in my head.” That’s why I don’t judge intentions. I know that my intentions have been honorable, usually focusing on the time constraint I fear may be in play with the prospect. I want to respect their time. And I want to respect their integrity so I don’t want to hold back giving them some bait and switch feeling. But the results are never good. Even with those good intentions.
Let’s talk through this and figure out how we can stop sabotaging ourselves.
The Power Of A Question
You meet a new person. Let’s assume it’s somebody you’re really pleased to meet. What do you say?
Most of us, after introducing ourselves and telling the person it’s nice to meet them have a desire to find out more about this person. Curiosity drives us to naturally do what works in sales. It works because it’s part of what we naturally do to build trust. And to find out more about the person.
We ask them a question.
We don’t run off at the mouth. And those of us who do rarely are able to develop a relationship. We’ve met that guy…the guy who can’t wait to tell us everything and more about himself. As we swivel our head like an owl looking for a quick exit we may only remember his name so we can permanently avoid him in the future.
We’re captivated by this new person we’ve met. We want to know more about them and the only way to find out is to ask them a question. It’s a strong expression of our interest in THEM, not ourselves.
Start with a question.
Sometimes it’s awkward, but it’s still the way to go. I’ve asked prospects a question and sometimes the reception to the question has been chilly. Conversation isn’t hard for me so I’ll wiggle my way through and try a slightly different approach. If the difficulty persists, I don’t press. I bail out. But that’s a strategic decision because in my work I’m able to make a judgment on who I want to work with. I figure if we can’t establish quick rapport after a bit of effort, then we’re likely not a good fit for one another. That’s okay. In fact, it’s better to figure that out sooner than later. Your circumstances might be different.
Almost every time I exercise the discipline to remain true to my natural curiosity about the other person they start talking and it leads to very productive conversations. My personal challenge is to keep the conversation directed so we’re talking with a purpose of me serving them – helping them. It’s not just conversation for the sake of conversation. I have to continue to focus on PURPOSE while we’re having a dialogue.
Forgetting the goal is a common problem in sales conversations. Every time it happens to me I hate myself for it. The old marketing adage is wrong.
You can’t say the wrong thing to the right person and you can’t say the right thing to the wrong person.
Sure you can. And we all have done it. I think that adage just makes us feel better when we know we’ve blown it. The first time we meet somebody – either in person, on the phone or online – they don’t know us. We don’t know them. Both of us are making instant judgments based on what’s said, what’s not said and how the interaction goes.
I’ve been involved in business interactions since I was teenager. Through the years I’ve learned that my curiosity about others and my genuine desire to learn more about people, and their business, doesn’t always translate into a great conversation. Sometimes we catch people at the wrong time. Sometimes we catch people who just don’t enjoy sharing. Sometimes we catch people who don’t enjoy talking about themselves. There are many reasons why asking a question – even a great question – might fail. Resist the temptation to think the strategy has failed. Not true. You just sometimes encounter a rare person who isn’t open to dialogue. It’s at those times that I find myself rambling on about why I called, what I do and how I do it. When I’m on top of my game I resist and politely ask them if there might be a better time to talk (or some other strategy to end this conversation with the goal of setting up another time to talk). I don’t know if this is how they are all the time or not. I don’t know what life is like for them at this very moment. Bull rushing into a conversation they’re not ready to have is a waste of time, and it never makes me feel good — so I try to resist doing it.
Uncover The Problems
It seems trite, but it works. I think it works because it’s crazy rare for people to ask us about our problems. Nobody wants to hear about what’s wrong. Few people want to help us with our problems. It just doesn’t happen. Hardly ever! And that includes salespeople who have vast experience.
You have to do what you have to do. This is where scripts fail every time. Follow a script that works for somebody else and you may find it falls flat when you use it. Because most of us aren’t great actors. Great actors can take a script and own it. They become that character. If were that good you’d be in Hollywood, but you’re like me. We’re not that good. Besides, I’m not a fan of acting in business. Let’s leave the acting for entertainment.
Pretending to be something or somebody other than who you really are isn’t a good idea when you’re working to serve somebody. You owe it to let them see and hear the genuine you. Don’t expect people to make a decision on doing business with you when you refuse to let them see the real you. It’s bait and switch at the lowest (or highest) level. It’s dishonest.
Find a way to uncover the problems your prospect is suffering. I can tell you what works for me, but I don’t want you to copy it. I want you to use it and then think about what you can do. Try things. Modify things until you find something that works for you.
I’m a candid communicator. People pick up on that within the first few seconds. It’s genuine and true to my character and personality. So I roll with it. I own it. That enables me to ask pointed questions quickly.
If I were a superhero, capable of solving your biggest problem, what would that be? What problem would I solve for you today? Right now?
More often than not, the other person will say, “Just one?” It breaks the ice, we chuckle and I insist, “Yep, just one. What would it be?” They’ll always tell me. Sometimes with a quick answer. Sometimes not. If it’s quick, I’ll ask them to tell me more. I may even boldly blurt out, “Elaborate.” Again, this works because it fits my personality and style. It’s natural, not contrived. And it comes across that way.
That doesn’t mean it’s right for you. What’s right for you is to put in the time and effort to think about how you can best uncover the problems and pain of the people you’re trying to serve.
Another reason this strategy works for me is because I operate from a fundamental belief that most people don’t care about the problems of others…and I genuinely do. I know how magical it is because I rarely if ever experience in my own life. Here’s a quick test — when is the last time somebody asked you about your problems, your struggles or your pain? Did you have to think about it. Or are you like me, no need to think about it because I can’t remember the last time it happened.
Even our friends don’t do it. Proof that when you engage people in conversation with a genuine interest in them you’re WAY ahead of the game. But don’t do it if you don’t mean it. Don’t do it if you really don’t care. Don’t do it as a tactic. It’ll blow up in your face.
And not everybody will know how to react to it. Once in a blue moon I encounter somebody like I mentioned earlier. They just don’t know what to do with the question. Or they’re uncomfortable with it. That’s fine. I don’t push. I never push. Instead, I pull back. I start retreating trying to see if they’re interested in continuing the conversation at another time. Sales pros might tell me that’s an awful mistake, but experience has taught me that my timetable isn’t relevant here. Their timetable is the only one that matters. This is really hard if you’re under a sales quota and desperate. Stop thinking your prospect cares about those things. They don’t. You’ll just start developing bad habits if you continue to operate from a place of desperation and urgency.
Your clients or prospective clients don’t care about your timetable. Nor should they. Stop trying to make them care.
Through the years I’ve had plenty of salespeople approach me with their sales contest, or some other reason why they “really need” need me to take action today. Like I’m going to do what’s best for them at the expense of doing what’s best for my company! It’s selfish, wrongheaded and stupid. Don’t do it. If you’ve got some musher of a boss, then get out. Find a better gig as soon as you can. Accountability is great, but pressure to make a sale because YOU need it is foolish. It may work once in awhile, but it’s a poor career strategy.
Follow Up The Question With More Questions
Okay, think about yourself for a moment. I give you permission.
Have you ever been asked something and you revealed something personal, or something important…only to have the person move right on past what you just told them? It’s like they didn’t hear what you just told them.
DO NOT DO THAT WITH YOUR PROSPECTS OR CLIENTS.
Pay attention. Gain understanding of what they’re telling you. Sometimes we’re afraid to continue with other questions. I grew up in an era when sales training experts called it “probing.” Some people take offense at that term, but I’ve never put a negative connotation on it because that’s exactly what it is. We’re probing with purpose – trying to gain deeper understanding of what’s bothering our clients and prospects. We really want to know what they’re struggling with so we can figure out how we can best serve them.
When they share their concerns with us we often think that’s our cue to dive into our pitch. WRONG. Don’t do it. Lean into the problem with questions to gain an even better understanding.
What I Learned From Complaining Customers
I was about 16 selling hi-fi gear at a local stereo shop. Customers would walk in with some piece of gear, signaling to everybody in the store that “here’s a customer with a problem.” Other salespeople – we were all working on straight commission – would run like roaches when the lights are turned on. My natural inclination was to step up and help them. For starters, we had a service shop with a technician who would repair gear. Also, I learned that sometimes these people needed to replace the item they were bringing in. I wanted to gain their business. And I also knew that they might not remember who sold them this gear, but I wanted to make sure they’d remember me as the guy who helped them.
Mostly, I had the personality and demeanor for it. Nobody taught it to me, but I did teach others through the years. Sometimes they’d come in pretty angry at their problem. They wanted to vent and gripe. For some reason, it never flustered me. I just listened carefully and would quickly say, “I understand. Let’s see what we can do to solve this.”
The owner of the store saw this happen a few times and gave me the job of handling customer service problems and complaints. I was the least experienced guy in the shop, but he saw the benefit of how I handled these people. I knew people with problems needed time to breath and vent. I had watched my mom and grandmother cook enough to know that when the pot with a lid is boiling…you have to do something to let the steam escape so it won’t boil over. You have to let people run with the line for a bit to see where it goes…and to let them vent.
I love the process because I know it’s one of my few super powers. Not everybody can do it. I can. So I lean into it and fully embrace it.
And I have another super power that I employ, empathy! Put those two together and I can’t avoid probing for more details and insights. I want to know more.
A business owner tells me she’s worried about cash flow. Cash management is an ongoing problem for her even though the company is performing at a high level. She can’t understand it. It keeps her up at night. You can hear the exhaustion in her voice. We’ve never met. She’s four states away from me. It’s our first phone call.
I ask her to tell me more. I resist the urge to ask a closed end question because I don’t know her or her situation well enough. She talks about some accounting challenges and it opens up the conversation for a deeper dive. It’s obvious to me that I’ve uncovered pain…the kind of pain that keeps a person awake at night.
If you don’t show interest and concern…you’ll never be able to go where you need to go. Or able to take the client or prospect to where they need to go for help. And that’s the deal. To get to a place of superior service so we can help people. What else matters? Nothing.
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