You are looking for a specific item. You go to the store. The overzealous salesperson approaches you and asks if they can help you. You respond with... "No thanks, just looking." But why do you do that? My wife and I visited a recent home show in our area. I paid close attention to how the salespeople at the various booths approached us, and how we (and especially my wife) reacted.
Their approaches fell into a Clint Eastwood pattern. No, I'm not suggesting that anyone was speaking to an empty chair. Rather, each salesperson had an approach that was either the Good, the Bad, or the Ugly. I decided to start with the Bad and the Ugly, and I'll wrap up with The Good.
This category was the most prevalent. Each of these reps started with a question like "Do you need any work done on the outside of your house like siding, gutters, or windows?" I know it will shock you to hear that these questions came from exterior services companies. In each case, my wife would say "we recently replaced our windows, and don't need siding, new gutters, or a new roof. Consumers merely think these folks are useless, and though nothing positive happens, the clients don't leave with a negative thought, either.
Another variation on The Bad was one company where I asked "So what do you do especially well?" The rep responded by saying "We do everything well." I said "I find that hard to believe. Is there something that you are especially known for?" He said "Really, we are experts at everything. And, if we don't know it, we can Google it to figure it out." Just what we were hoping for... a contractor who would be searching Google for instructions moments before starting our project (okay -- maybe this one should be in the Ugly category).
There were few in the ugly category, but these are the reps that have a horrible message similar to those in "The Bad" category. However, these daring few then respond with snide comments in response. They would say things like "Yea, right. I'm sure you've replaced all of your windows." Not only do they fail to gain interest, but they actually put their company in a negative light. We make note of them to be sure never to deal with those companies.
Are you looking for a great introduction to start your conversation at a tradeshow. There were two approaches that stood out. The first one was very simple, but effective: "What were you hoping to find at the show today?" Another variation was "What brought you out, today?" Both variations of this first approach gained my wife's attention. The second approach was a booth that responded to our question of "What do you do" with something specific: "There are many vendors here that do a ton of things. We only do one thing, but we've been doing it with great success for more than 30 years. Can I tell you about it?"
What can you learn?
Both the Bad and the Ugly started with questions that were in their own interest. In essence, they were not interested in helping us find the products or services we needed. They only wanted to know if we were a potential client for what they were selling. The Good reps started by asking an entirely client-centric question: What is it that my wife and I were seeking (even if it differed from their services). This opened the dialog in a friendly tone, and shifted the discussion from "I am trying to sell you something" to "How can I help?"
Remember that whenever you meet with a potential client, they can either see you as someone trying to sell something, or someone who is there to help. If you think that they might see you as someone there to sell something, you are already facing an up-hill battle.
Being attuned to your client's issues is something that Dan Pink and I will be addressing at next week's sold-out event in Bethesda, Maryland. Dan covers the notion of attunement quite well in his latest book, To Sell Is Human. What are you doing to ensure your clients see you as someone there to serve their needs?