There’s a saying that I like – a saying that I live by really.
I’m continually amazed by how stupid I was two weeks ago.
Now, to show you what I mean, let me tell you about a recent revelation I had.
I don’t remember exactly when, and I don’t remember exactly how or why it hit me. Matter of fact, I don’t think it was a sudden realization at all. I think it was more like a slow, creeping realization, that I had. I mean sure, I’d read a few books on human behavior, and what makes us tick, but I’d never really had a chance to apply that knowledge in s systematic way, until I got into consulting. Once I got into consulting however, my world revolved around human interaction. Whether or not I was successful at my job, hinged on whether or not I was successful in my interactions with other people.
Naturally, that meant that I had to figure out how best to interact with others – and fast.
Now, for the first hundred or so client meetings I had very little success. In fact, some might say that I was tossed on my ass more than a few times. And not for a lack of effort either – but simply because I lacked the skills to get the person across from me to open up. Most conversations I had to start from scratch, and make a concerted effort to make the other party engage in the conversation. Not much fun for me and certainly not much fun for the client.
After much trial and error, I learned that this wasn’t working. So naturally – since insanity, after all, is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results – I tried a different tack.
I decided to start going into “naked” – meaning no presentations, no slideshows and no solutions that I was going to try and sell people.
All I had going into the meetings was a framework of questions, meant to get people to open up – talk about themselves, their situation and the kind of things that were on their mind. More akin to a therapist than a sales-rep, really.
And lo and behold – it worked!
There is nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, on the surface of this planet, who do not enjoy talking about themselves. Hell, why do you think therapy is so expensive? All people need is a tiny prompt and they will tell you what’s on their mind. And when people tell you what’s on their mind, they start trusting you. I found, that when I sat there and listened, the best I knew how, people opened up to me in a way I’d never experienced.
They started saying things like “Within the confines of these four walls” and “Just between you and me, this is how it is…”
I couldn’t believe my own ears.
In a single meeting I would move closer to a sale by asking open questions and listening for the answers, than I would in a full sales-cycle, by using the classic approach of trying to hard sell.
In my experience this approach is truly quality over quantity, but it has the added benefit, that when trust is built initially, then all the rest of the steps in the sales cycle happen much faster.
From this point there was no going back for me.
The hardest part for me in using this approach was silencing my inner voice, that kept yabbering on about what I should say next, and how I could come across as smart as possible. Once I learned that that didn’t matter, and that all that mattered was staying with the flow of the conversation and guiding the person I was talking to gently, with a well-timed question or two, then everything fell into place.
Once I overcame my fear of not knowing what to say next when the client, and being unable to control the conversation, I found that this approach was a complete game-changer for me. From being unable to even get a follow-up meeting in the books with the people I met with, I now had clients asking me when we should meet up next. The first time that happened I remember I remember thinking to myself WTF?! – that’s new.
I felt like I cracked the code on that one, and unearthed an insight that really went to the heart of what makes humans tick.
And the best part about the whole thing is that – in my experience – it works in regular life too