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Don’t Act Like a Seller, Think Like a Buyer! To Engage Customers in Meaningful Conversations

Don’t Act Like a Seller, Think Like a Buyer

Chapter 4: To Engage Customers in Meaningful Conversations

The next two steps in the DELTA process

– Engaging Customers

and Researching Their Situations

– are closely related;

one gives rise to the other,

and in fact they can happen simultaneously.

But I find it more helpful to cover them in separate chapters,

because, after all,

we need to engage the customer in a meaningful conversation first,

before we can research their situation is.

Without a meaningful conversation,

we may still have orders,

but there will be no sales conversations,

and the salesperson cannot help the customer with the purchase.

Meaningful dialogue,

as I said before,

is a mature debate about truth,

the meaning of which is open

<to all disputing parties>.

It’s a conversation,

a back-and-forth exchange between two people

– you and the client,

about their company,

their industry,

or themselves

– not just one person talking,

while the other listens politely.

Meaningful conversation is a powerful concept,

and it only happens consistently

when our knowledge is broad enough

and our relationship with the customer solid enough.

In a meaningful conversation,

the customer feels safe,

and you have an open

and honest two-way communication

that can lead to a purchase.

Otherwise, you could be kicked out of the office.

Dan Weilbaker encountered a similar situation.

He is currently the McKesson Professor of Sales at Northern Illinois University.

He started out as a pharmaceutical salesman,

then became a national sales

and marketing director,

before entering academia.

Recalling his first days at work,

he did exactly what the company trained him to do:

go to the doctors’ offices,

say this,

do that.

Dan said, “No matter what the doctor was interested in,

I just poured out what I wanted to tell him.”

Apparently Dan didn’t go to the office to have a conversation,

whether it was meaningful or not.

Dan thinks that doctors,

like many other clients, are busy people;

They don’t have time to listen to nonsense.

One day, Dan ran into a doctor who was fed up with this.

“He said to me,

‘You don’t care what I care about.

You’re here just to sell your stuff,

and I don’t care either.

Get out of here!

For a young salesman,

it’s embarrassing.

But it taught me that I need to be more concerned

with the client’s problems than mine.”

When you go to start with a seller-buyer dynamic,

you are already in trouble.

If the prospect is really wary,

you won’t be able to sell them anything.

If you can’t get customers to talk

– anything

– by creating a situation and environment

where they feel safe

and want to open up,

it will be very difficult to continue

to learn about the situation in their picture.

Once they feel uncomfortable talking to you,

they won’t voluntarily give out honest information

that can help you understand their problems,

needs,

or desires.

As discussed in Chapter 3,

you should create an atmosphere that is as comfortable

as possible for potential clients

from the moment they walk into their office.

The goal is to build customer interest,

then initiate and maintain a real conversation

and it’s a sales conversation,

not a sales contact.

Ask open-ended questions,

don’t pressurize,

threaten,

leave open for honest answers.

This doesn’t always work,

but it’s the goal to be achieved.

“The price of success must be paid in full,

in advance.”— Brian Tracy

*******************

A MEANING CONSULT IS PRICENSE

Even if the purpose of the meeting is not

to make an immediate sale,

it is invaluable to have a meaningful conversation with the customer,

because your relationship will become stronger.

Mike Accardi, a supplier of ingredients

and packaging services in Memphis,

realized it when a large customer called him one night.

Mike said that his company Wurzburg always has 40 different sizes

of crates available for this important customer.

He uses all sizes of crates

but doesn’t want to keep them in his inventory.

Twice a week,

Mike visits this customer

and the next day ships him the type of crate he needs.

Everything went smoothly for 15 years,

until the customer got caught up in a “power dispute”

with an executive at the company’s main office.

That office started trying to get Mike’s clients in trouble.

And after five months,

they discovered that they could buy one of those 40 boxes in Kansas City

and have it shipped to Memphis

for less than the Wurzburg company’s price.

Mike said, “One night,

at about nine o’clock,

reviewing

my friend called.

He yelled and cursed at me.

He said, ‘I trusted you!

All my life, I have considered you as a friend!

Now I can’t trust you anymore.

‘ I said, ‘Calm down!

What’s the matter?’

He spewed out stories about crates.

I said, ‘Listen here.

I won’t talk to you right now.

I certainly won’t hear you yell at me over the phone like this.

But tomorrow,

I will definitely be at your office at 3 o’clock.’”

The next day, at the client’s office,

Mike invited him down the street for coffee.

Mike had a feeling that if they were in the office,

they wouldn’t be able to talk the way he wanted;

The phone would ring continuously

and people would interrupt the conversation frequently.

Mike recalls,

they went to a coffee shop,

and while drinking coffee,

he said to his friend,

“Last night’s call was annoying.

And I’ll tell you straight up

that I don’t like being cursed at all.

After hanging up the phone,

I couldn’t sleep.

I thought to myself,

what did I do to deserve this?

Or did I miss something

that I should have considered as a real partner of your company?

So I stayed up all night remembering

what happened over the past 15 years,

and thinking about our relationship.

I tell you this, even if I knew it was going to be like this,

I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done,

because for the past 15 years

I’ve been your warehouse manager,

your dealer. buy for you.

I’m the only one you only pay when I get the job done.

You don’t buy me any insurance,

you don’t pay any federal insurance tax (FICA) for me,

and there’s no one in this building

who serves you more actively than I do.”

Mike said that,

as he finished speaking,

the other friend dropped his head

and seemed about to cry.

He looked up at Mike and said,

“You don’t understand.

My job is at stake,

and they’re using you to play me.”

When asked about the price of the competing crate,

the customer told Mike.

At that price,

even a large merchant like Wurzburg couldn’t buy it in the usual way,

not to mention the shipping fee to Memphis.

The customer then asked a very reasonable question,

“So how did they do this in Kansas City?”

Mike said, a few years ago,

there were many factories producing cartons made

of corrugated paper in the country,

and according to the characteristics

of the production process of this type of carton,

once you have operated the machine,

you will never be able to use it again can now stop it,

unless you close the factory

and exit the industry.

At the time, Kansas was an outlier compared to other cities of its size,

as it had many factories that made corrugated cartons.

Mike’s main office discovered a factory

that produced these barrels;

This factory,

perhaps to maintain production,

was selling at a very low price compared to the normal price.

Mike said to his friend,

“Listen here.

Now let’s talk about the cost of the crate.

To get that price,

he had to import a large volume of barrels

and bury his money for about six weeks.

You’ll bury interest on that money.

In addition,

you have to spend space to store the goods,

and the storage space is worth a lot to you.

Do with me,

you just pay what you are using.

You never have to worry about running out of stock.

What if you don’t estimate the time of the next shipment

and this type of box is out of stock?

Kansas two days ago car.

If one day late, what will happen?

How much will it cost you for not delivering the goods?

That’s the price of the whole package, not the box.”

Of course, to some extent,

the customer understood this and agreed with Mike,

but there was nothing he could do about it.

Mike lost the order,

and not long after that,

the customer lost his job as well.

However, when the customer found another job in Kentucky

and had a packing need,

he contacted Mike again.

In fact, the amount of goods the new company ordered was enough

for Wurzburg to set up a branch dedicated solely to them.

Well, without that meaningful conversation,

Mike would never have known what was wrong,

nor would he have been able to get the order from Kentucky.

To engage customers in a meaningful conversation,

keep these six principles in mind:

1. Prepare for the contact,

not because it matters

to you but because it matters to the customer.

2. Focus on the customer’s problems and concerns, not yours.

3. Choose words to create a safe environment;

Your goal is to understand the customer’s situation,

not necessarily to make a sale.

4. Encourage dialogue;

Don’t talk the way typical salespeople do.

5. Remember, all conversations are voluntary,

and the ideal listening/speaking ratio is 50/50.

6. A meaningful dialogue usually begins with your intention

and ends with your assessment.

Follow these six principles

and you will become a master at effective dialogue,

sell more and have more fun.

“The future belongs to the competent.

It belongs to those who are very,

very good at what they do.

It does not belong to the well meaning.”— Brian Tracy

*****************

NEED PREPARATION FOR CONTACT BECAUSE IT IS IMPORTANT

To have an effective dialogue,

preparation is extremely important.

You must know

as much as you can about the business,

about the job,

about the situation of the potential customer

before entering the meeting.

You have to be able to draw interested listeners

into what you have to say.

To do so, you must ask questions

that stimulate the listener to want

to know more or to share more openly.

Remember, people only want

to learn more if they trust you

to be objective and not try to take advantage of them.

It is only when our communication is reliable

that the dialogue is elevated

from “just talk and listen” to “effective”.

Your way to show objectivity is

to ask serious questions related

to the issues your customers care most about,

and listen to the answers actively.

Your questions will encourage customers to think differently,

and by thinking differently,

they will also act differently.

And the best way they can think differently is

to buy your product

or service,

once they realize your product

or service is the best for them.

It should be noted that people buying

from you is not the same as selling to them.

If someone pops into a store to buy socks,

it’s a purchase, not a sale.

He goes there to buy;

no one entices

or explains to him the characteristics

or benefits of each of the different types,

colors and sizes.

The salesperson might show him where

to put his socks

and add that this week there’s a special

for a particular type of stocking

– but that’s not a sale,

it’s a purchase.

The reason this is not a sale is that in this case it is not necessary

for people to interact for the coin to change hands.

The more complicated the sale,

the more meaningful dialogue is needed.

Salespeople should be well prepared for every sales conversation,

not because it’s important to them (although it is),

but because it’s important to the customer.

Tim Wackel,

formerly a sales executive and now a sales consultant, speaker,

trainer and head of the Wackel Group in Dallas, Texas,

tells me he often starts Starting a sales conversation by saying things like,

“Hey, it took me a long time to prepare for our meeting today

(or, to prepare for today’s phone call),

Please. I googled your website…

I looked at your profile…

I looked at your company’s recent three-quarter financial statements.”

Tim wants his clients to know

that he has research and that he intends

to say something that will pique their curiosity,

and show that he cares.

Tim said,

“In my opinion, the first decision they make will be:

is this a topic worth talking about.

So the first thing is to get them curious,

and then the next thing

– happens very quickly;

it’s all in seconds, not hours or days

– I have to prove myself trustworthy.

So, the first decision is:

Is this a topic worth talking about?

Then make a second decision:

Is this the person I want to talk to on the subject?

It is only when the prospect is both curious

and believes that Tim is trustworthy

that the sales dialogue continues.

Selling involves two people talking to each other,

and exchanging things as meaningful as possible,

which requires managing the steps in the customer-salesperson interaction process.

For those who have not done so in the past,

they must now think differently,

in the present and in the future.

In order to stimulate the visitor to think,

the conversation must produce arguments

that are slightly provocative,

emotional,

or provocative to the point that people jump into comments.

Or, one party may ask the question

because it believes the other party has some useful

or interesting information.

If you can’t engage your prospect

or customer in an honest conversation about their problems,

your chances of changing their behavior are slim.

If you don’t understand your prospect’s real problems,

you’re just wasting your time and effort.

Therefore, to avoid this,

you must be well prepared for the conversation.

Once, a customer called to ask us

to help them improve their market share.

As a leading company

but losing market share,

the management is very worried,

and they do not know how to solve this problem.

Also being a market leader,

this was an unusual situation for them,

so they asked us to meet them.

Because this was such an important prospect,

we spent $5,000 doing a market survey

before going to see them.

I don’t know if we can get this project,

but one thing I can be sure of:

we will.

Nothing is achieved without preparation.

I came to the appointment not only with questions

but also with insights that they themselves did not have.

The company we hired to research found

and spoke to 10 customers

who had switched from the company’s product

to a competitor’s product

and thoroughly explained why.

At the meeting, we said,

“This is how your customers rate your product,

and this is how they judge your competitive product.”

They were amazed

by the in-depth analysis of our market research results.

Customers didn’t realize the company’s message,

so the company realized that they had a communication problem.

We created a deep dialogue

because we prepared

and got to the root of the problem.

Let’s say the people we surveyed were just a small sample,

10 customers;

and let’s say the results are not representative

of what’s going on in the market as a whole;

but here are 10 people who switched from one product to another,

and they explained why.

In some cases,

our information is simply to confirm the thinking of executives,

but it also shows them

that they need outside experts to handle a particular issue.

That is our value.

We’ve created productive conversations by doing research,

gathering data,

and then by asking questions and sharing our insights.

We do not share our knowledge in a way

that offers solutions to problems,

but rather use them to ask questions

that neither management nor we can answer.

However, those are questions that managers need

to answer to solve their problems,

and they hire us just to help them do so.

“Concentrate on the activities of prospecting,

presenting and following-up;

the sales will take care of themselves.”— Brian Tracy

******************

FOCUS ON CUSTOMERS’ PROBLEMS AND CONFIDENCE, NOT YOURS

I have found that the best way to encourage a meaningful dialogue is

to be considerate of the other person.

What is this man worried about?

What does she like?

What does this man care about?

When she’s not at work,

what does she like to do?

What does this man love to do but don’t have time to do it?

There’s no secret here.

If you’re really curious about people,

ask them serious questions,

and listen to the answers attentively,

you can have a conversation with most people

(but not all:

some people are so stressed out that they can’t even take a moment

to think about their own problems).

Henry Potts, National Sales Manager of Melillo Consulting says,

“Meaningful dialogue is customer-oriented.

They know why I’m here,

and I know why I’m here.

What I really want is a relationship

where I can share useful information.

The client may not know much about me,

but it doesn’t matter

when they first get to know them.”

During the first meeting,

Henry doesn’t usually spend a lot of time talking about himself or his company,

“though I’ll go through the conversation a little bit.”

The real goal is to understand the customer.

Henry focuses most questions

around the specifics of the client’s business,

since that’s what a conversation should be about.

He wanted to know what difficulties their company often faced.

“That’s the information I want to get,

because,

as a professional sales person,

I take those things to the core.”

But ultimately, says Henry,

“You need to let customers talk about themselves,

about their business problems,

the challenges they go through in their day-to-day operations.

In doing so,

I often have a meaningful dialogue.

Or at least know if the conversation makes sense.

Are they just giving me normal information?

Or are they really providing a lot of important information?”

Traditional sales contacts rarely create a comfortable atmosphere for customers;

therefore, they often do not lead to a meaningful dialogue.

Ordinary salespeople in general often let customers/

potential customers listen to them passively

– which is fine for them if that’s the case.

They don’t understand that,

when a prospect is just passively listening,

the salesperson can’t make a sale,

because the prospect won’t be involved in the sale.

If the salesperson only gives a monologue

—even an elaborate monologue

—it won’t lead to a sale.

And if there is, that “trade” cannot be maintained for long.

Sales can’t be good if the salesperson can’t get the customer

to think critically about

what’s being offered,

and then respond in a way that causes the salesperson

to argue why the product is on sale.

This product is good,

is suitable

But sometimes, the sales conversation can hit a dead end.

The reaction of many customers is sometimes

to avoid communication

and seem insincere.

And when you talk about the knowledge

that the company has equipped,

the potential customer only responds indifferently.

You will find that you keep talking around

and not getting to the point.

What to do now?

Tim Wackel says,

“In my personal and professional life,

if I come across a conversation that isn’t genuine,

doesn’t open up,

or feels like something out of the ordinary is going on,

I’ll ask right away.

I will mention it directly,

but in a very professional way.”

Usually, Tim will say something like this:

“Let me interrupt for a moment.

I must apologize

because I felt unable to connect with you.

I feel something is making our dialogue ineffective,

for you and for me.

First of all,

I ask you to forgive me

because I have clearly done something wrong,

and next,

please allow me to find out

why we have gone astray.

Did I say or do anything to make our dialogue go in a direction neither of us wanted it to?”

Note that it’s always a good tactic

for Tim to admit fault for his lack of information and understanding.

He also pointed out that,

if the dialogue doesn’t make sense,

it won’t work for the customer.

While your time is often more valuable than the client’s

(if you’re on commission and the client is salaried,

that’s even more true,)

you need to take a stance

that you don’t want to waste your client’s precious time.

Tim’s experience shows,

“If you gently confront people with the truth

– and confrontation is a strong word

– when you do,

you will be astounded

– as I have experienced and surprised

– at what happened.”

The conversation suddenly becomes effective in most cases.

“Every single moment shapes our future.

Be intentional.

Live on purpose!” — Brian Tracy

*****************

ESTABLISH A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

A safe environment leads to significant sales success.

By the words you use, you establish a safe environment.

Do not use exaggerated words at this time.

Your goal at this point is to learn, not to sell;

to “diagnose” the disease, not “prescribe”.

You need to understand the customer’s situation,

not the sale.

At the same time,

you need to stimulate thinking

and direct the customer’s mind to possibilities

that they may not have been interested in before.

Sometimes to establish an effective dialogue,

it will take many contacts,

not just one,

but that will not happen without preparation

and careful thought about the words you intend to use.

Some people are willing to argue that,

in the field of sales,

it is not important to influence,

or persuade with words.

But in fact, it is only

when people are convinced

by something that they are likely to change their behavior.

To be persuasive, words must combine

to a reasonable degree of emotion and logic.

It must be meaningful,

clear,

and logical,

provable,

through research,

through experience,

through a reputable third party,

or all three of the above.

The words must make the listener think

and move to action.

It must paint a picture that the listener feels familiar.

It awakens the listener’s desire,

or even something that the listener may not be aware of.

(I’ll talk about ways to define customer desires in Chapter 6.)

Since words and their order are important,

consider carefully the possibilities of different answers

from the same question.

You might ask a potential customer,

“What associations are you in?”

This is a perfectly reasonable question.

But if the answer is

“No association,”

then it is very likely that you have made people uncomfortable,

and that is not the state you want to create.

You want to know what professional associations the client is in (content),

but you also want to give the person a feeling of euphoria after you ask (status).

A better question is,

“Is there any organization,

if any, that you spend time with?”

This allows the client to say,

“No, we don’t join any associations,”

without feeling down.

Pharmacists often ask doctors,

“<With this drug,>

how important is safety?”

If the drug is still considered safe,

the doctors will say safety here doesn’t matter.

Conversely, when the salesperson asks,

“Is safety important, doc?”

Doctors will say safety is important,

even if they are talking about medications that are already considered safe.

Likewise, here is the difference between the question,

“How important is on-time delivery to you?”

and the question, “Is on-time delivery important to you?”

What if you and someone you have a good relationship

with are having a meaningful conversation,

and suddenly you say,

“Is pharmaceutical safety important?”

Responsible doctor

would say, “Yes safety is important,

but this is a drug that is supposed to be very safe.”

You won’t even have to ask directly,

because you’re having a productive conversation

that the doctor will tell you first.

Or, the purchasing agent will tell you right away,

“Yes, on-time delivery is important,

but the reality is what company doesn’t deliver 7 days a week,

24 hours a day.”

When you have a meaningful conversation,

customers are willing

to share honestly with you.

They want to understand what you’re offering them,

and you need to show them your sincere intentions:

you really want to find out if what you’re offering fits their needs.

They’re trying to help you find that fit,

and even if it doesn’t,

they want to know why.

Since the words you use are so important,

try to organize them in the most persuasive way.

One of the best examples of persuasive use of words is the following passage:

“Eighty-seven years ago,

our forefathers created on this continent a new nation,

conceived in Freedom,

dedicated to the claim that all men are created equal.

We are now waging a great civil war that will test whether this nation,

or any other nation,

thus conceived,

thus consecrated,

can last long.

” Few of us can write a speech like the Gettysburg Address.

But we can learn to write such powerful

and persuasive sales messages,

using logic and emotion that appeal to the listener,

and drive the listener to action.

Once you’re skilled at creating meaningful conversations effectively and consistently,

you can make a stronger customer response

and ultimately make more sales.

Here is a fictional story that Harry Mills tells in his book Artful Persuasion

that shows the power of speech:

A Jesuit and a Benedictine monk are heavy smokers.

They spend most of the day begging their superiors for a cigarette.

After talking to each other about their problems,

they both agreed to tell their superiors about it and report it to each other.

When they met again,

the Jesuit asked the Benedictine monk how his meeting was going.

“It is disastrous! I asked the abbot,

‘Do you allow me to smoke during prayer?’ and he got angry.

Father made me make fifteen more penances

for my act of disrespect.

But my brother,

why do you look so happy,

what happened to you?”

The Jesuit smiled,

“I went to my vicar and asked,

‘Father, am I allowed to pray while smoking?’

Not only did he allow it,

but he congratulated him on his piety. ” (first)

Since words are so important,

two heads are better than one.

Share your vocabulary with people you trust

and learn from others.

Ask for input,

like,

“Do you understand that?

Does that sound right?”

You should try to get input from colleagues,

from managers,

or from consultants.

They can help you figure out the best way to talk about something.

You need to know what you’re aiming for,

and what’s the best way to do it.

************

ENJOY DIALOGUE

I’ve said this in five different ways,

so I won’t repeat it again.

“Spend eighty percent of your time

focusing on the opportunities of tomorrow rather

than the problems of yesterday.” — Brian Tracy

ALL COMMUNICATIONS IS VOLUNTARY

Remember that all dialogue is voluntary,

so it’s important to “own”

both the content and the state of the contact.

To be a good salesperson,

you need to be able to create dialogue during your interaction.

An effective dialogue reflects your ability

to foster an environment in which effective conversations can take place

between you and your client/potential client.

In a meaningful conversation,

it is the salesperson’s responsibility

to pay attention

and regulate the ratio between listening and speaking.

You should make sure the prospect talks at least 25

or 30 percent of the time during the interaction.

It is difficult for two people to share equal shares in any conversation,

especially when each person’s intentions are different,

or the focus of the conversation is not based on pure intentions.

However, if the customer really cares,

you can easily encourage a 70/30 or 60/40 ratio

between listening and speaking.

As a salesperson,

you often come up with an assumption or main ideas,

and you speak mostly during the interaction,

but you should let

– in fact,

– the other person respond to what you say.

Traditional salespeople often seek to make a sale by establishing states

in which prospects behave like buyers,

not like people wanting a call.

If you don’t start by creating the conditions

for the conversation to flourish,

it’s very difficult to end well,

because the other person will treat you like a normal salesperson.

You can’t engage in an effective dialogue

if the other person is constantly on the lookout,

defensive, and uncooperative

– the opposite of what you want and need to be effective.

So the key question would be,

“How can I make people want to listen to me?”

First, you have to convey to them

that you want to understand their point

of view and that nothing is more important than what they have in mind.

Next, ask honest questions so that the client is eager

to engage in a real discussion with you.

The questions you ask must be carefully crafted

and wholeheartedly focused on the customer,

so that a sincere,

complete and honest response can be obtained

without wasting the customer’s (or yours) time.

Don’t make the customer “run away”

because the questions give clear signs

that you are about to sell to them in the next sentence.

Never be fooled by using questions

as a stepping stone

to jump into the good news of the product you want to sell.

Many salespeople ask questions that drive them to the answers they want:

“If I could show you how to save $500 on long-distance calls per month,

would you care?”

That’s not the catalyst for a productive conversation.

Instead, you could ask questions like,

“Do you mind if I ask a question?

How important is price to you or your company

when choosing a long distance phone service provider?”

This question does not require a yes or no answer.

It creates a safe environment for two reasons.

First, you’re asking permission to get information,

and second, you’re wanting

to know how important price is to them or their company,

not tricking them into selling.

Questions of this kind often get people thinking

and encourage productive dialogue.

It will also give you information about the importance

of price in the customer’s decision-making process.

A Meaningful Dialogue Begins With Intention

Just like everything else in sales communication,

true meaningful dialogue begins with intent.

It is intention, not everything else,

that helps you have meaningful conversations.

Remember, if your goal is

to find out what your customers want

and help them get it

– diagnosis first, then prescription

– you will be more likely to have meaningful conversations meaningful,

rather than when your goal is to sell them something today.

Your intentions will guide you on

how to manage the status

and content of your offer.

With the right intentions

– “I came here to see if the company

and its products and services are of value to potential customers at the moment”

– and with extensive knowledge,

raising Good questions are not difficult for me,

because I no longer have to think about them.

My conversations with potential clients are exactly the same

as my conversations with close friends.

And I don’t use business jargon just to get customers to agree.

Instead, I focus on the information

I really need or want to know:

what can this person tell me to help me understand

what our products

and services mean to me? surname?

When pitching to a prospect,

I look more like an investigative reporter than a salesperson at first;

and at the end of the talk,

I’m more of a consultant than a traditional salesperson.

I’m not here to sell anything;

instead,

I come to find out (and see) how my merchandise fits their needs.

I come to see how I can help them “see/believe”

that my product or service will optimize their situation/results/performance.

However, sometimes I still have to risk asking difficult questions,

because all the other questions have failed

to spark the interest of the client or prospect.

There’s nothing to lose by doing that.

With times like that,

I just ask the difficult questions… gently.

For example,

“I know that the decision to change suppliers is a very difficult one.

I really feel like we’ve put a lot of effort into working with him,

but it seems that the two sides still haven’t reached the same voice.

In situations like these,

the problem is usually someone in my company

who upsets you (and maybe that person is me);

or my sales message didn’t resonate with yours;

or you have a relationship with another supplier

and it is very difficult to change.

Could you please let me know if any of the above happen

– and if so – could you please tell us what we should do?

What can I do to cooperate with you, even a little?”

Meaningful Conversations MUST END WITH YOUR ASSESSMENT

Finally, meaningful dialogue should end

with your assessment of whether the exchange was successful or not?

Have you done the things suggested here,

had a productive dialogue?

Do you make people think?

What is the listening/speaking ratio?

Are you in control of the situation

and creating a safe environment

where customers feel comfortable and willing to share?

Anthony Yim finds that a meaningful dialogue over time

can overcome competitive challenges.

Anthony’s company received a phone call

from a well-known consumer goods manufacturer

who was planning to build a new corporate headquarters designed

by a famous architect.

It’s a modern design, completely different

from what people used to do before.

They wanted it to be the paperless office of the future,

with an advanced telephone system

and communication network.

Since it was a new building, it was a very large project

– and at that time the customer had not yet used the services

of Anthony’s company (a telecommunications company).

“A lot of people advised me not to waste time with this partner,”

Anthony said.

“They don’t want to do business with us…

It’s hard to replace other suppliers,

the only reason they invited us in was

because they wanted two or three contractors…

They just wanted to get only our ideas.

I thought, let’s see what

I can do to build a relationship with them.

They can listen to us,

and listen to our stories.”

Anthony said that

because it was in the early stages of the process,

the leadership of the partner company decided

that even though they already had a telecommunications supplier,

they still wanted to see all the other ideas

that were possible apply to new buildings.

Anthony joins some brainstorming sessions with them:

let’s put a phone tower outside the building

and use cell phones inside.

Let’s use the European standard.

Let’s apply all the most innovative technologies.

Anthony met with them six to seven times to exchange ideas

– most of which were either impractical or impossible.

“But I did listen and establish productive conversations.

I never tried to sell them anything,

because they were in the ideation process,

and I knew that none of the ideas would ever come to fruition.

They just wanted to do something different.”

Anthony brought his employees to meetings,

and they all confirmed that this prospect just wanted

to do something unique.

“We arrange to wait

until our clients come out of their confusion,

and realize that many of the things

they want are actually very unlikely things.

We study the process,

and my employees always tell me, ‘

Hey, you know,

these people aren’t the kind of customers that might buy from us;

This case is so obscure.’”

Right from the start, people warned Anthony

that this potential client just wanted

to call him to get his idea.

You should move the deals through a distributor.

The re-distributor told Anthony,

“That’s never going to happen.

I know these guys.

I live in this area;

other companies will compete with you on price,

and they are in a better position.”

Because Anthony knew his conversations

with customers had long been genuine,

he told the distributor, “I don’t think so.

We spent a lot of time

and I don’t think other companies are in a better position than us;

These companies are trying to compete on price.

They are resting on victory.”

As the new headquarters building began to take shape,

Anthony and his company’s engineers toured the site

with customer representatives.

“We asked,

‘How does this work?

How does the other work?

This shows our interest in their situation,

and how we can accommodate them.

Thanks to that, we had the opportunity

to introduce them to our company,

then invite them to our headquarters,

and finally,

they really listen to what we had to say.

We take them around the headquarters

and show them all the things we do,

how we develop the product.

They listen.

They feel like they are at home.

They feel welcome, and they come to listen.

They can listen and see solutions.

They can see the benefits to them.”

But in a meaningful conversation, all the next steps

(Anthony has met with clients over a dozen times) should be steps

where people become serious about discussing the details,

and open their minds to it more open.

“We had a meaningful dialogue.

And then we were allowed to introduce our company,” said Anthony.

Valerie Sokolosky of Valerie & Company,

Dallas has a different experience,

but the analysis

Her work on dialogue taught her a valuable lesson.

The executive of a large nonprofit organization

is looking for professional etiquette training

– how to present professionalism in the workplace.

It is a topic that Valerie often speaks on

and she has written several books on the subject

of “Professionalism and Etiquette in Business”.

She and the prospect have been talking

by phone and e-mail for several months.

The client wants a presentation prepared to their liking,

lasting for an hour.

They wanted Valerie’s company to take pictures of her routine of tattoos,

body piercings, and shorts,

which Valerie would then weave into a carefully crafted presentation.

At the same time,

the client also organized a video recording of Valerie’s presentation

and displayed it in the agency’s library for future staff reference.

(And, with the intention of not having Valerie return to speak again.)

“We had good talks,” Valerie said.

“Contrary to what I used to do,

I sent the client my books.

She checked the website,

and I’m sure she’ll let the others know.”

Finally after two months,

the prospect was ready to meet Valerie.

The meeting included the client,

her boss,

and the human resources manager.

They want Valerie’s help in encouraging their employees to dress up.

Valerie brought her book,

called Business Casual, and said,

“This is a quick, easy read.

It’s a valuable but inexpensive guidebook

that can be used as a handout for everyone

when I’m going to give a talk.”

The customer abruptly cut her off,

“We won’t bring your book because its title is Business Casual.

Here, we want to use the phrase Business Appropriate.”

Valerie was making her customer uncomfortable

without even realizing it.

She responded, “Oh, I see,

and I think you’ve used the very word,

‘office-appropriate’,

but let me tell you (Valerie smiles and speaks in a soft voice), you don’t)

You can’t find any book out there titled Fit for the Office.”

Valerie recalls,

“It seemed like it had ruined the relationship

we had built over the past few months.

I didn’t understand her body language and tone of voice

when she interrupted me.

She seemed to be saying,

‘I’m the boss.

Listen to me.’

I didn’t get it.

Then she asked about the price

and was surprised at the fee.”

Valerie was equally surprised by her surprise,

because the moderator

who introduced Valerie earlier said Valerie’s price

was definitely not the issue.

The customer said nothing,

the HR manager said nothing,

and the boss said nothing.

At the end of the meeting,

Valerie returned to the office

and received an e-mail from the customer,

“I have to find another supplier.

The price is beyond our budget.”

At the time,

Valerie said,

“I didn’t have a relationship,

a client,

or a potential client.”

When analyzing where

and why there could not be an effective dialogue,

Valerie realized that she should have clarified the budgeting process

of the organization from the start.

“I made the wrong assumption

– and never made any

– and the exchange seemed to go by easily

without ever mentioning the price.

It’s all due to me.

I didn’t bring the issue up in the first place,

and then when I got to the meeting,

when she talked about my book,

I didn’t understand her.

Turns out she was a young woman

whose boss allowed her to find someone

and make her own decisions.”

By making the wrong assumption,

Valerie “gets in the way” of an effective dialogue.

Meaningful dialogue can happen immediately or take a while.

There is no way to know

if it will happen quickly or slowly.

When I started a business,

the first people I came in contact with included the vice president of sales

and marketing, the sales manager,

and the chief marketing officer of a company

that was planning to launch a new business out a new product.

Having done my own research on the company and their plans,

I asked many questions that they found very difficult to answer.

For example: what role do relationships

with potential customers

and customers play in the success of this product launch?

They say it is absolutely decisive for success.

I asked, “Have you taught your salespeople how to build relationships?”

They said no.

“What kind of relationships did your opponents have?”

They say that their opponents have very good relationships.

“Which sales expert are you working

with to help you compete with your competitors?”

They say they don’t work with anyone.

I said, “You’re forecasting a billion dollars

and you’re going to bet a billion dollars on hiring a sales force.

, get the product ready for launch,

and at the same time make sure

that your sales force beats the competition?”

The questions “provoked” them so much

that they wanted me to meet privately

with the sales manager,

who would make the final decision.

I met him at breakfast,

and we ended up talking for three hours.

He later told me that,

when he first met me,

he was very suspicious of me.

During my first talk, he thought:

Who is this guy to come here to ask what we’re doing?

I realized he was suspicious,

and so we needed another meeting

to have a productive, one-on-one conversation;

I believe that’s the only way

I can get the contract.

After the three-hour breakfast,

he said,

“As I got to know you better,

I realized we weren’t prepared at all.”

My insistence on seeing this client was,

in my opinion,

to understand his own problem

(and not just the other organization’s),

to make sure my interests were matched with his interest

and was able to create a meaningful,

and business-to-business conversation.

It was that assessment that made the difference.

The questions we ask

and the environment in which

we ask the questions need

to capture the attention of our customers,

and encourage them to speak openly.

Great salespeople know that it’s completely impossible

to be at the top of a buyer’s list

unless you have the absolute confidence of that person.

Preparing for and engaging more in meaningful conversations

will elevate you in the eyes of your clients,

and is key to your success.

Only after a safe environment is created,

and meaningful dialogue begins,

will you receive the information you need

to understand your prospect’s situation/problem/challenge.

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Angel Cherry

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