As I work with groups of clients across the globe, I am often asked “what’s the one thing that we can do that will really differentiate us from the competition?”
This is a tough question, particularly in industries like Management Consulting or Global Services where all the major competitors seem to have similar offerings, their websites look similar, their people dress the same, talk the same… and even say similar things. A big part of the answer lies in the habit: Seek first to understand, then seek to be understood.
I often refer to this as ‘diagnose before you prescribe’. Imagine going to your doctor and he or she paid scant attention to your symptoms, didn’t take time to understand what was wrong… and simply wrote a prescription for an antibiotic. How would you feel? NOT GREAT!
In sales, the most important word to know in mastering this habit is LISTEN and the second two are GET CURIOUS. Listen to the customer or client – but not with the intent to reply, to convince, or to manipulate. Listen simply to understand, to see how the customer or client sees things, and then to get curious about what is challenging them.
If the common sales paradigm is “I need to ensure that customers understand our product, service or point of view.” the highly effective paradigm is “I have more influence when I listen first.”
The skill to develop here is empathy and you need to display a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) when probing and asking detailed questions to understand the issues the client is facing. Top sales performers excel at this and the result is that they delay making presentations or proposals until they really understand the client needs, context, constraints and buying motives.
Average sales people just can’t seem to avoid ‘premature presentation syndrome’. They present far too early, far too quickly, and typically the content of their pitch is very ‘thin’ on understanding, too ‘thick’ on assumptions and misses the mark, often completely missing other opportunities too.
The real differentiation in competitive markets is often the way that a sales person displays patience and conducts a full diagnosis of the problems to be solved or the results to be achieved, BEFORE jumping to a pre-ordained ‘solution in mind’.