You’re not actually supposed to fix every problem immediately. Sometimes you just need to listen. Learn about a technique called "the art of patience."
- Early in my career, I had a particularly poor customer meeting. My audience seemed bored, had no questions, and wrapped up the meeting 20 minutes early. Afterwards, my wise manager gave me a piece of advice that I've remembered ever since, and that is a sales engineer is not paid by the word. What does that mean? It means that especially early in a sales cycle, the best behavior is simply to ask intelligent and insightful questions and then be quiet and listen instead of continuing to speak.
You don't have to immediately jump in and fix a problem that you don't fully understand. Sometimes you just need to listen, and that's really hard. Certainly there are times when Alison, my wife, will tell me, "Don't be such a guy "and try to fix everything. "Just listen to me." That's great advice, (laughs) and not just because I'm married to her. Every year I visit my local doctor and have an annual physical. The process usually starts with some light social questions and then a loosely structured interview.
His first question is, "So what would you like to speak about today? "What's bothering you?" My response might be, "I have a strange pain on the inside of my right knee." You'd think his next question would be, "How long have you had this pain?" or "How severe is it?" or "Describe the pain in more detail." he doesn't ask me any of those questions. Instead, he repeats, "Pain on inside of right knee," writes that down on an iPad, and then asks me, "And what else?" The reason he does that is because he is the medical expert and I am not.
His training can help him associate multiple pains and put them together, determining which issues are symptoms and what he should focus on for a man of my age and profile. Also, borrowing from the medical profession again, a friend of mine who trained as a psychologist told me that the very first lesson they learn is the first problem a patient gives you is rarely the most important one. The same applies to your customers. The first problem or pain that the customer tells you about is rarely the most important one.
Now, why could that be? Some possible reasons are they're testing you first, they're a bit embarrassed about the situation, they don't trust you, or it's the problem they're most comfortable discussing. In over 75% of the cases I've observed, the customer does not start with their number one issue three times out of four, so play the odds. Next time a customer shares an issue or pain with you, confirm it.
Suppose you say, "Great, so you feel that the error rate "in your manufacturing process is too high "because of statistical measurement errors." Then acknowledge you can assist by saying something like this: "We can certainly help you with that, "and we'll get back to the error rate." We know the customer has a problem with an error rate, but you want to see if they have any other problems that need to be solved. So then you want to probe by saying something like, "Are there any other problems we should also be discussing?" It's rather like what my doctor says at the end of the consultation, "Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?" Sometimes you may need to prompt the customer with examples to help them talk more.
My doctor uses the horrible phrase, "John, typically when I speak with men your age, "they want to talk about." And as he might say, "John, when I've met with other companies in your industry, "they often have problems with X. "Is that something you are looking at?" You'll be amazed what you can find with a bit of patience, and this is counter to what many sales methodologies teach. Be the patient sales engineer and spend way more time listening than you do speaking.
- Roles and responsibilities of the technical sales engineer
- Matching technology to the business
- Making the pitch
- Putting it all together for the win