I recently wrote about Selling from Inside Your Client’s Shoes.
The gist of it was to drill-down into the interior dialogues that we all engage in at the outset of a sales conversation. (The subject is related to what famed sociologist Erving Goffman explored in the 20th century – we are all actors on varying stages).
I suggested that much trust creation in sales happens precisely in the opening, small-talk interactions – “small-talk” really isn’t small. Done right, we can break through our parallel internal rituals and make a trust connection. Trust in sales is as much about courage and intimacy as it is about preparation and credibility.
But How Do You Do It?
One reader (thanks Rich) said he totally bought the analysis, but took me to task for leaving out the good part – namely how you do this connection thing. How do you make small-talk Big, and truly connect to the feeling of being in the other’s shoes?
Fair enough. Here we go.
The problem is that we (both our client and ourselves) are acting out pre-rehearsed, pre-scripted dialogues. There may be some room for improvisation, but not much.
And when we all operate on auto-pilot, everyone’s interior dialogues continue as well, even taking on greater importance (“when’s he going to be done?” “huh just as I suspected,” “gotta pick up milk on the way home” ).
Why We Destroy Real-Talk
What causes this navel-gazing in place? Ironically, it’s a direct result of planning and rehearsing. That sales program you’ve been taking? The one that tells you how to set objectives for the meeting, how to articulate your value proposition, and how to handle objections? That sales program is not the solution (in this instance), it is the problem!
If all your interactions are “successfully” scripted in advance, do not pat yourself on the back for good planning. Instead, kick yourself for having turned a potential human interaction into a bloodless, robotic performance.
Think about it: If a successful sales call can be programmed in advance according to if-then clauses and do-loops, then why not just send in Robo-Seller? Better yet, email it.
Borrowing from Pogo, we have met the enemy, and it is us. Sales planning and sales training all conspire to render us impersonal, unconnected, and unable to be effective at creating trust.
The spell needs breaking. The inner dialogue, on each side of the table, has to be exploded and exposed to the bright light of connection. And it has to start with us, the seller.
How to Break the Spell
The enemy is planning. The cure is spontaneity. You can’t be “real” if you’re not reacting in the moment.
And the time to ‘get real’ is right at the outset. Make the small talk real. Let the client know that you are showing up in person, right from the outset, fully present and ready to interact.
Meaning – improvise. React. Be in the moment. Comment, observe, be curious – about something that occurred to you no earlier than 60 seconds ago.
Yes, I’m serious. Do not script your opening lines. In fact, don’t even think about them.
I can hear you – “Whoah, that is risky!”
Yes, it is – and that’s the whole point. Think about the message that taking a risk sends. It says:
- I’m confident in myself, enough to be at ease and relaxed
- I’m aware of my surroundings
- I’m paying attention to and focused on the person I’m talking to
- I came to bring value by interacting, not by playing a pre-recorded tape.
And if you make a “mistake?” First of all, making a mistake proves you took a risk, which is the whole point. Secondly, the frequency of making ‘mistakes’ is vastly overrated (really, how likely are you to say, “Who’s that ugly girl in the photo? Oops, that’s your daughter?”)
Prepping for Improv
There’s a reason improv comedians are being hired more and more by consultative organizations – what they teach is what we need in this situation. Here are a few tips.
- Don’t over-rehearse
- 10 minutes before the meeting, go clear your head. Take a walk; breathe deeply; meditate if you’re into it (count to a thousand if you’re not); notice what your senses are telling you (taste? smell? touch? sound? colors?)
- In the waiting room – notice stuff without judgment. What magazines are there? Is it cold? How old is this building? Chat up the receptionist about the weather, or how long they’ve been there with the organization.
- When you meet your prospect – focus on them. Pay attention to their voice, their pace, their emotional state. Make yourself wonder what’s going on with them?
- Say something. Better yet, ask something. Better still, make an observation and ask something.
At the risk of appearing to give instructions, here are some examples of what you might end up saying. These are only examples: you’re not allowed to use any of them :-).
- Do you folks get fresh flowers in here every day? Must be nice.
- Driving in from the City, what a nice commute that must be every day – is that how you come in?
- Your receptionist tells me you just moved in to this location last month – do you feel settled in yet?
- I’m picking up a sense here that you’re really busy today – anything special going on? Do we need to revisit our time contract?
- Is that really a Rolls Royce I saw in the front parking lot? What’s the story behind that?
- I confess, I thought the operation here would be somewhat smaller – then I walk in and I see you’ve got four whole floors here.
The way you get inside your client’s shoes is to get out of your own. That in turn encourages the client to be present with you. When you do that, the ‘small talk’ actually becomes real. It becomes less a mechanical ‘business-only’ interaction, and a more personal one.
After all – if you’re really interested in a potential relationship with someone, wouldn’t you want to be real with them from the start?