Coupled with that, Mark has a very high level of enthusiasm and energy---it's infectious. Meeting with Mark, or seeing customers with him is always interesting. It's often hard to keep up with the ideas.
Imagine my surprise when Mark asked me for some advice today. While he is the highest performer in his company, he was having some challenges with closing deals. He said he was getting sales to a certain point and then they seem to stall. We were talking about what was going wrong.
Fortunately, I had been on some calls with Mark. I've seen how he interacted with customers. I've also seen Mark in conversations with his peers in his company and we had had many conversations between ourselves.
Mark has a problem---it's a problem I've seen many bright, high energy, and high performing sales professionals have. I noticed that Mark rarely lets anyone complete their thoughts. Mark's mind is racing ahead of the conversation. Before the customer has had a chance to state their issues, Mark knows the answer and is presenting a solution. He's eager to solve the issue, his enthusiasm and energy causes him to interrupt and to start presenting a solution.
Since Mark is truly an expert in the industry, more often than not, he is focusing on the right issue and presenting a powerful solution. However, this creates a real problem -- one the Mark is totally unconscious about.
The customer never gets to tell their story, the customer never really feels that she is being heard. Mark has not given them the chance to explain their issues.
The problem gets worse. A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with Mark and one of his customers. A few sentences into the discussion, Mark could read where things were going and jumped in to talk about the issues, their impact on the customer and their customers and potential solutions to resolve the issues. He wasn't pitching, but speaking from his expertise and experience --- an in many senses was very credible.
The problem, however, was that wasn't the issue that was bothering the customer. By interrupting the customer, Mark had cut off the chance to hear the real issues that were bothering the customer and address those. While Mark eventually discovered this and corrected it, it took some time. Fortunately the customer was generous and forgiving, giving Mark the opportunity to explore the real issues.
I see the same scenario too many times, with some of the best, most knowledgeable and experienced sales people.
Going back to Mark's and my discussion. He asked me what to do. I started to tell him, then he jumped in......
After I stopped the discussion, I said: "Mark, here is your new mantra: 'Let the customer complete their sentence or thought. Never, never, under any circumstances interrupt her. Then, before you respond to the customer, ask her three questions. If you do this, you will see profound changes in your effectiveness.'"
Mark paused and thought about it. He made a few comments, stopped himself and said he was being defensive. We started discussing it. Somethings we concluded:
- Everyone wants to be heard--they want the chance to express their views and know
they are being listened to. They want the chance to tell their story---and they
need to tell their story to someone who is listening.
- As smart as we are, until we have heard the customer's view, until it comes from their mouths, we are just assuming---and we know what assumptions make us.
If we give the customer a chance to complete their thoughts, we will learn something new.
- If we ask the customer three questions before responding, the quality of both our listening and our knowledge increases exponentially. We can then respond more
appropriately and have an engaged customer.
Before we concluded, Mark asked me, "What are the three questions I should ask?" I have a specific answer for this, but I'd like your ideas and views---so please comment.
For any of you who are very curious---email me, I'll give you the three key questions you might ask in these situations. Just send a request to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.