Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Reengage Unresponsive Sales Leads(Episode 25)

A manager at a communications firm writes in and asks “How to you manage qualified sales leads that seem very interested but then go silent? Do you keep reaching out?  Do you try another approach?”

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: podcast@trustedadvisor.com

We’ll be posting new episodes every other Tuesday.
Subscribe to get the latest 
episodes

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Set Up for Failure By My Boss – Special Guest Andy Paul, Author & CEO, The Sale House (Episode 23)

Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS

Trust Matters, The Podcast: When Clients Want to Look Under The Hood at Your Pricing (Episode 22)

Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS

Trust Matters, The Podcast: Giving Tough Advice to a Client and Getting it Taken (Episode 21)

Podcast: EmbedSubscribe to TrustMatters, The Podcast Android | RSS

Answer the Question

Q. What do you do when your client or customer asks you a question?

A. Why, answer the question, of course! (Doh!)

But – what if the question itself is flawed, or incomplete, or dangerous to answer?

For example:

 

  • What if a potential client wants to know the price before you have explained the value?
  • What if a client demands to know the final recommendation before going through the analysis?
  • What if a client phrases a question as a simple “go or no-go” when the issue requires nuance?
  • What if a potential client asks you a very pointed and narrow question about your qualifications?

Then what do you do?

On the one hand, if you answer the question directly, you risk giving an incomplete answer. You open yourself up to a ‘gotcha’ question. Worse, you legitimize a partial or even misleading question by the mere act of responding to it.

On the other hand, if you don’t answer the question, you risk offending the client. Worse, you look like you’re trying to hide something. And, it’s likely to come off as just disrespectful.

How can you avoid disrespecting the client, while not opening yourself up to an unfair and premature judgment?

How to Answer the Question

There is a way out of this dilemma. Better yet, it not only avoids a negative – it actually helps build trust. Here’s what you say:

  1. Flatly and simply answer the direct question you were asked
  2. Pause
  3. If necessary, offer to answer more questions

Here are some examples: then I’ll talk about why they work.

Client: Before we dive into specifics of the situation, I want to know the price on this project.

You: Depending on several issues, around $225,000.

[Pause]

Client: Um, depending on what, for example?

 

Client: Before you go on to page three of the presentation, I want to know: do you recommend we close the factory, or not?

You: We recommend you close it.

[Pause]

Client: OK, why?

 

Client: How much experience do you have doing marketing studies for tech services companies?

You: Two prior clients in the past 18 months.

[Pause] [More Pause]

You: Is there something else it would be useful to talk about?

 

Note the critical role in the dialogue of the [Pause]. In the first two cases, the client is the one who fills in the quiet space. In the third – after making extra-sure of the pause – you fill in the space, by respectfully offering to answer any more questions

The Text and the Sub-text

That’s the text. The sub-text is what’s critical here.

First, the answer. It has to be simple, specific, and directly responsive. That’s because the critical sub-text is all about respect.

By being simple, specific and responsive, you are conveying to the client, “I am willing to let you take the lead here. I am not going to quibble about the relevance of your question, or its potential for revealing value. I am not going to ’spin’ my answer to suit my own needs, but rather will defer to your terms, as stated by you. I will not hedge, hem, nor haw. I respect your right, as the client, to set the agenda and ask the questions; I will reserve my own attempts to frame the issue until you are satisfied. I respect you.”

One effect of showing respect by being simple, specific and responsive is that you reduce the level of fear and aggression in the client. You are demonstrating that this conversation does not have to be a competition, and the client need have no fear about you attempting to control them.

The other effect is to validate the client, to show them that they have asked a fair question, and that you have given a fair answer. Presuming fairness and reciprocating in kind appeals to the client’s innate tendency to return like for like – fairness for fairness – vs. engaging in passive-aggressive games of controlling the agenda.

Second, the Pause. The subtext of the pause is, again, respect. It allows the client to control the agenda (by following up, by taking a new tack, or by simply abandoning the question). This offer of control is another trigger for reciprocity on the part of the client.

Usually – as in the first two examples above – the client will fill in the pause. And their response will usually be tempered by the respect you have already shown them in the simple, specific and responsive answer.

Occasionally – as in the third example above – the pause continues long enough for it to be appropriate for you to offer another comment – and yet another opportunity to show respect. You do this by making explicit what was already implicit – that you are willing to answer any questions, and to respect the client’s right to frame those questions in any form they may want.

The Result

In most cases, this “onslaught of respect” is enough to alter the tone of the entire meeting. Instead of being cautious, suspicious, and aggressive, the client is likely to reciprocate and return the favor. (The fundamental nature of reciprocity was never better phrased than by Robert Cialdini: take a listen to this podcast interview of Cialdini by Barry Ritholtz).

You can call this dynamic “give to get,” or “trust to be trusted,” or “mxqtplskz;” what you call it doesn’t matter. What matters is that by treating a loaded question with respect, you can transform the context within which that question is being asked, and thus transform the relationship.

All by just responding to the question simply and specifically – and pausing to show even more respect.

The next time a client asks you a tough question, just try it. [Pause].

The Disconnect Between Short-term Behaviors and Short-term Results

One of the most frequent trust questions I get is typically phrased as a dilemma: how can we establish trust-based long-term relationships in a culture that values short-term performance?

But rarely have I had the question posed so clearly and sharply as in a recent discussion with an investment banker. Paraphrasing, he said:

“Listen, I make no apologies for being 100% money-motivated. That’s why I’m in the business I’m in.  If the firm changed our incentives tomorrow to a weekly basis, I’d be there in a heartbeat – doing what I have to do, week to week. So when you talk about long-term trust, I frankly glaze over. My timeframe is what maximizes my income – period.”

You can trust investment bankers to cut to the chase. It’s their job, and they’re very good at it.

But here’s what he missed.

There’s an unspoken assumption in his stark phrasing of the issue. That unspoken assumption is:

The best way to maximize short-term income is through short-term behaviors.

And that assumption is dead wrong. Here’s why.

The Disconnect Between Behavior and Results

The point is obvious if you think about strategy. Which approach to corporate strategy is likely to be more successful over the next five years?

  1. Company A, which revamps its entire corporate strategy every quarter, or
  2. Company B, which sets its corporate strategy over a five-year timeframe, and occasionally tunes it

Pretty clearly, changing a long-term strategy on a quarterly basis is the recipe for long-term bad results. But notice – long-term bad results happen a quarter at a time. Five years of bad performance shows up in 20 bad quarters.

The basis for strong short-term results (quarterly in this case) is long-term behavior – not short-term behavior.

What’s true for strategy is true for relationships as well. If you manage your client relationships by viewing them through the prism of quarterly (or monthly, or weekly) sales and income reports, those clients are bound to notice.

Few things destroy client relationships like a lame, semi-apologetic request like, “Could you maybe move that sale up a few weeks so I can get credit this quarter?”  Clients are not stupid, and there’s no way to dress up such a self-serving request for monetization of the relationship so as to disguise what it really is. Such a request will backfire on you.

So will any such behavior that betrays your true objective – if your true objective is to treat your clients like transactional piggy banks, rather than as the long-term relationships we claim to aspire to.

Long-term Greedy

Former Goldman Sachs senior partner Gus Levy is credited with coining the phrase “long-term greedy.” In typical Wall Street fashion, the phrasing was perhaps calculated to sound offensive – but in fact, it expresses something completely commonsensical, and highly consistent with trust. I endorse it myself.

What Levy meant was that the best way to do well in the long-run – and, by implication, in each quarter on the way to the long run – is to behave in a long-term manner. That means: keeping your word, taking care of clients, acting with integrity, putting clients’ needs first – all the time.

If you behave that way – in the long-term, as a matter of habit and principle – then you will actually do far better in the long run (and by extension, in the accumulation of short-terms on the way there) than someone who is constantly seeking to optimize only the next quarter.

Note this does not necessarily have anything to do with ethics. You can be, as my investment banking friend claimed to be, 100% motivated by money, and still act in ways that are largely indistinguishable from someone whose trustworthy behavior is ethics-based. You just have to not be stupid. And Gus Levy was assuredly not stupid.

The next time you hear someone say. “I can’t do that trust stuff because all the incentives around here are short-term,” explain to them why there’s nothing wrong per se with short-term incentives. The problem is stupidly believing that short-term behavior is the best way to get there.

The best short-term results come about from operating on long-term principles – and reaping the benefits every quarter along the way.