I write and speak frequently about customer focus, engaging customers in conversations about their business, and understanding customers. I’ve also taken pretty strong positions against the “show up and throw up” style of selling.
The other day, was speaking to someone about these topics and the importance of engaging customers in talking about their business rather than pitching. The individual I was talking to asked an interesting question, “Don’t you waste a lot of time in conversations with people that won’t buy?”
I asked him what he meant, he responded that if the customer isn’t interested in our solutions or has no need for them, a lot of time could be wasted in conversations that don’t have a “pay-off,” at least for us.
It’s a great concern. It’s probably one that lots of sales people managers have. Stated differently, “I’m not measured on or paid to have interesting conversations with customers. I’m paid to get PO’s!”
To be honest, I’m pretty ruthless about the conversations I have. Unless I’m at a cocktail party and can’t find someone more interesting to talk to, I have no interest in idle conversations. I don’t have a lot of time or patience for a lot of chit chat. I’m not interested in solving world hunger (Well I am, but that’s a different story.) At least in business, I can fill hours and days in cool conversations. But if they don’t help the customer more effectively achieve outcomes they want by leveraging our products and services, then they are idle conversations.
I have one driving interest. I want to talk to people who have the problems I can solve and who want to do something about them! No if’s, and’s, or but’s—only period, exclamation point!
So every conversation is very purposeful. First, I know the people I should be having conversations with–that is the types of companies, the industry segments, the title’s of people within those customers, the behavioral characteristics, and so forth. We have a very well defined sweet spot. When we are prospecting, we stay within that sweet spot. When people contact us, within the first five minutes of the conversation, we probably have figured out whether they are in the sweet spot.
I don’t waste my time outside that sweet spot. Sure there are interesting people, great ideas, neat conversations. But none of these people have interests or concerns that I can do anything about. So investing time in them is a waste of both their time and my time. No this doesn’t mean I’m impolite. I’m interested in people and learning. I want to be helpful. If I can, I’ll point them in a direction that’s helpful for what they are trying to achieve. But I’m not going to spend any time trying to get them interested in what we do and sell—because I know it produces no results for them or me!
Somebody called the other day. They wanted me to participate in a conference. They even wanted to pay me for it, but I declined. The conference sponsor was astounded. “They are all from customers that you are targeting!” I responded, “But they aren’t the customers, the individuals, that I target. They don’t have the problems I solve. Their companies have those problems, but others in those companies have those problems.” I went on to say that I’d be wasting my time and the audience’s time by speaking. Sure I could entertain them, sure they would say “that’s interesting,” but it wouldn’t have been really meaningful to them and that’s not how our company makes money.
Second, if I’m talking to someone in my sweet spot, I know what problems I can solve. My focus in the conversation is to determine whether they have those problems, whether they care about them, and if they want to do something about it. We do this by engaging them in a discussion about their business–not telling them what they do, but talking about issues relevant to the problems we solve. We learn from the customer and they learn from us. They may not realize it’s a problem–that’s my job to translate the issues into a discussion about the opportunities they might have or problems they might want to solve.
Very often, however, they don’t have the problems we solve. I thank them for their time and sharing. we commit to stay in touch, they ask for the newsletter, but then we both move on. It’s not that we don’t like each other, that we haven’t had a pleasant exchange, but if they don’t have the problem I can solve, then we are having an idle conversation–it’s using their time as well as mine poorly.
So conversations are critical–but the right conversations with the right people at the right time.
I think the problem many sales people having conversations is the same problem they have in pitching their products. They are aimless and unfocused. They don’t know their sweet spot. They don’t have a rich characterization of their ideal customer. They don’t know what problems they are the best at solving–they know their products and what they do, but they can’t make the leap to understanding problems from the customer’s point of view. Consequently, they waste a lot of their time and that of their customers. The more they wander aimlessly, whether it’s pitching or having idle conversations, the more difficult it is to have impactful meetings with customers.
Conversations are important. Focusing on our customers’ business, the opportunities they have, problems they have and how we can help them is critical. It’s the fastest path to the customer getting the outcomes they expect and for us to get an order.
Anything else simple takes too much time—for both them and us.
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