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During a recent coaching session with a client of mine, we were working on the strategy for an upcoming meeting. This was a huge opportunity for my client, and they wanted to maximize their chance of landing a piece of business that could virtually double the size of the company.
Part of the preparation involves thoroughly understanding what is important to the client. I asked Shawn, the lead representative for my client, a simple question: "What is the primary motivation for the customer to spend money on this solution?" Shawn's response was, "I think they want to lower their costs and improve efficiency."
Don't Think. It's Bad for the Team
In the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner plays a veteran catcher in the minor leagues who is mentoring a new top-draft-pick pitcher. At one point, Coster's character says "Don't think... It's bad for the team." In this case, he is telling the pitcher (aptly nicknamed Nuke) that he should not think when pitching. He should just throw.
The problem in Shawn's case above is not that he is thinking. After all, this is business not baseball. Thinking in business is a good thing. However, you should never "think" when it comes to what motivates the customer. You need to "know." Thinking is not sufficient.
Ask the Tough Questions
A great sage once said, "The easy way is the hard way, and the hard way is the easy way." In doing exhaustive searches, its origin is uncertain. I'd love to take credit for it, but I know I heard it from someone else once. In terms of selling complex products or services, this means that taking shortcuts and the easy way out often entails a long, painful sales process. Asking the tough questions up front might make people uncomfortable, but it gives you valuable insight into opportunities.
A Few Examples
The key to each example is to ask the question and then say nothing. Just let the client convince you one way or the other. You are simply trying to uncover their truth... which might differ from the truth you want to hear.
Will they spend the money?
If you are trying to gain insight into whether or not the client's issue will rise to the point of getting money to more forward, you could use a common approach to hope and pray. Or you could ask a question like, "Sometimes projects like this end up stalling because the issue is not significant enough to get adequate funding. Is this project facing a challenge like that?" Either the client will or will not convince you that their issue is significant.
Who else needs to be involved?
The best way to get insight into how a decision will be made, it to discover how similar decisions were made in the recent past. If you ask "Who is the decision maker?" You will always get the same answer: "I am." You'll get this answer regardless of the truth. Instead, ask "When you made decisions like this in the past, who else got involved?" This will be less threatening, and is more likely to produce an honest response.
Where Did Shawn Go Wrong?
Shawn is a great guy. His flaw was that he did not take the time to ask the client questions to know how they were motivated to make a purchase. Once he said "I think," it was clear that my client was missing key information. Shawn contacted the client and asked the question above about projects stalling. The client launched into a twenty minute explanation of why the project was so important. Most of the information was news to Shawn. They ended up landing the account, and are now working hard to identify the next big opportunity.
It's Your Turn
What key information have you ever been caught "thinking" instead of "knowing"? What was the result?