I’m in South Beach for some meetings. Let me tell you, it is an eye-boggling cornucopia of glorious humanity. Sights, sounds, smells. I love to watch people. I guess it is the anthropologist training. And, like you, I sometimes script a scenario about who these people that I am watching “are” and what their story is about. I’m judging what I assume their book is, by the cover they present to the world on a given day.
It’s really pure fantasy when it boils right down to it. But it’s fun as long as you realize it isn’t real.
Sort of like when you are talking with engineering peers, prospective customers and current clients.
I was working with a team yesterday, facilitating their decision making process on which of their vendors’ solutions they were going to place. I only asked one initial set of questions (which is basically the way I work). The rest of the conversation was self-propelled by their asking each other productive questions.
The question I asked was: “Are your vendors proposing solutions for who you are today, as opposed to who they are used to working with historically and who they think you are? Are they listening to what you are telling them about your current needs and the issues on the table?” In other words, are they judging your book by its external cover? And is that dust jacket an old one?
As consultants, vendors and suppliers, most of us are very, very good at what we do.
And all of us are working within our own status-quo or the way things are. When we have discussions with prospective or current clients, we can’t help ourselves. We have done our homework, assess what we feel their situation is going to “be” and we create our own biases: which of our solutions would be perfect to solve their problem. In essence, we drink our own Kool-Aid and are convinced going into meetings that we know where our discussions with our customers are going to go. And we will be waiting for them when they get there: with our solution.
Which is where our fantasy prevents us from really being of value to our customers.
We don’t listen to what they are saying. Really listen. In an unbiased manner which has nothing to do with placing our solution or solving their problem. We don’t listen to them, simply. We don’t glean the real heart of the matter because, at the end of the day, it is all about placing our solution. So we have “sold” ourselves before we even sit down with our clients. Who do not want to be sold, by the way, on anyone’s solution. They want someone to listen, ask a provocative question here and there, and let them take their thoughts in the direction they need to go. It’s more of a collaboration than a sales conversation.
How many of you are confident enough in your ability as vendors to let your customers loose to come to their own conclusions on which solution to place?
Because that is what your customers are going to do, anyway. They do not want you to guide them, manipulate them, dangle carrots in front of their faces, or appear self serving in any way. Which is counter-intuitive to how the sales process normally is scripted.
When you think about it, you do not work for your clients or with them, either. You “see” them, via phone, email, computer screen or perhaps in person, infrequently. Yes, you “stay in touch” with them, keeping you and your company’s name in front of their faces so that they won’t “forget’ about you.
Don’t worry. They don’t forget about you if you have a valid offering. What you are missing out on, however, is the context of their decision making. And if you are not listening to what your customers are saying to you, as frequently or infrequently as that may be, your solution may be misdirected towards a historical context which no longer exists. Depending on the length of the business development cycle, and the amount of funding involved, your clients may be in a completely different decision making space than when you first started discussions with them. Talk about ready-fire-aim. You bad.
I’ve always found that the best way for clients to place a solution is for them to arrive at that conclusion, on their own, based on my asking great questions rather than constantly substantiating my solution. And that goes for the times I become part of my clients’ business development teams, as well.
You may feel you can read your clients like a book. Just make sure you are actually reading their content, thoroughly, before you make superficial assumptions on what may have been, but no longer is.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013-2016. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools and is available on Amazon.