By Sam Reese
I don't watch a lot of TV but once in a while, I happen upon a late night show and stay to watch. Jimmy Kimmel Live!'s Mean Tweets segment was on. It was fun to watch how celebrities react to not-so-flattering comments from non-fans. I’m sure stars are used to hearing adoring praises from their followers, so it was refreshing to see how their sense of humor helped them get through reading mean tweets about themselves.
That got me to thinking about the sales profession and our business here at the MHI Global. Back in the day, sales professionals were taught the customer is always right. To make the sale, you needed to say all the right things that flattered the customer. The key was to be agreeable and accommodating to your customer’s every whim and fancy. Well, we all know that even if that approach worked then, it cast a bad rep to the sales profession.
To make the sale in today’s world, salespeople need to be credible and trustworthy; and to earn credibility and trust, you need to provide perspective. Think of perspective as the polar opposite of a scripted, canned pitch. Perspective is about converting input to insight. It’s about weaving together the customer’s inputs with your own experiences, and come up with insights not previously considered.
If customers could diagnose their own problems and come up with solutions on their own, then all they would need is an order taker, and salespeople would be out of work. There’s a reason they turn to you and your firm; they're in a rut and they need your help. If you stick with just saying what the customer wants to hear, how are you helping customers think through the results they’re out to achieve, including the possible unintended consequences? I’m not saying be brutally honest to the point of being mean like the tweets I mentioned above. What I do encourage is to have the audacity to bring what you know to the table that will help the customer see beyond his initial thinking and introduce points of view they never thought before. This could mean bringing up a thorny issue that the customer has tried to avoid. Or having a candid conversation with the customer to flesh out why he is devoted to a particular solution and muster the courage to ask, “How great is this idea, really?” To be a trusted advisor, you need to be able to mentally walk them through all possible scenarios, filter through all the options, and distill them to help customers arrive at the smartest decision possible.
You can keep playing the Yes-Man role that feeds customers’ egos, and rely on luck to meet your quota. Or you could be the trusted advisor who can look them squarely in the eye and answer honestly when they ask: “What do you think?” “What do you know?” “What is your experience?” “How does it compare?” Customers value perspective from the people they work with, and they look to you to provide them with perspective on the pros and cons of the situation to make a well-thought-out buying decision.