Welcome to the first installment of the series! Well, actually it’s the second 😉 but welcome anyway!
The Rush album I chose for this post is “Test for Echo“. The aspect I’ll write about is both a communication and relation skill and I believe it is often underrated.
It is… listening.
Here we go!
Talk, but listen! (“Test for Echo”)
As a pre-sales, much of my daily work involves talking: on the phone or live, in presentations, webinars, demo sessions or POCs… you may think that usually I’d be the one who talks and the others would be (hopefully) listening, and that is quite true – but very often I am the one listening to what people in front of me have to say.
This is something I’ve always done instinctively, so I was a bit surprised and amused when I recently heard of “the power of silence” in a sales strategy context.
Granted, it isn’t always easy and to be honest, there are times when I just can’t wait until it’s over… but in general, creating a real two-way conversation rather than a monologue brings several good advantages.
Sometimes even the greatest, most interesting topics can be boring, just because they’re presented poorly. Also in some cases, the people you’re talking to seem totally indifferent, no matter how cool is what you have to say.
Managing to get some feedback from your interlocutors, be it just one guy in a meeting room or 100 attendees in a conference, is often effective in keeping the interest up. It’s one of the basic “tricks” speakers can use during a speech: interacting with the audience, breaking the flow of your own voice and calling for an action helps “waking them up” if they seem bored or distracted.
No one likes some crazy salesman constantly talking and hysterically waving his hands around, right? 🙂
In my previous post I wrote about the human factor and how I believe it’s important to get to know your customer or partner – this of course can be done only listening to them.
But there’s more… personally, when I encounter a new customer or partner I like to know and understand the environment I’ll be working in. In my experience at Veeam, the sell cycle is generally pretty short and we don’t usually run year-long POCs… most of the times I don’t have the chance to gain a really deep knowledge of the infrastructure.
That’s why I always try to have them explain their current situation and design choices to me. First, because I like this stuff a lot. I’m a geek after all, what did you expect? 😉
Second, because I like to give credit where it’s due. I’ve come across some very smart, skilled IT admins / architects and it is always a pleasure to exchange views with them about technology. Well, I also hear crazy, ridiculous stuff all the time that I will occasionally tweet for fun 🙂 But it is truly refreshing when I see something awesome and I I have to congratulate the people responsible for it.
This also helps creating trust. Everybody appreciates sincere recognition of their skills and their work. We’re not talking about lip service here… it never goes far and it’s easily detected.
When I see something interesting, perhaps a new technology being evaluated or a smart design, I like to learn about it from the customer. Even (… especially?) if the topic falls out of the primary area of interest for my company or role. It’s again part of the human factor: it helps me learning new things and gives the customer the possibility to share their reasoning with someone who understands, but more importantly cares about it.
If my relationship with a customer/partner is a mutual exchange of knowledge between peers rather than a mere “seller-buyer” thing, it is a win in my book.
Your thoughts, both the good and the bad ones
Just like I love when people give positive feedback about my work or the solutions I proposed, I need to know if something didn’t go as smoothly as expected. It is no secret that a good part of a company’s success depends on its ability to actually listen to the market… for single individuals it is kind of the same, I think.
Receiving honest comments helps understanding if your solution – or your work – has weak points in the eyes of the customer or partner. While it may not be pleasing to take a couple of “punches” once in a while, in my opinion it helps a lot to understand where you or your products can improve.
I’ve had my share of these situations. For example, a couple of years ago I was discussing a design choice with a customer for their virtual environment. We ended up talking about some best practice I read about in a training e-book (it was quite a reliable source, by the way) and I “blindly” told them what I read. The customer, who was both clever and skilled, questioned the validity of that recommendation, in a constructive way, with valid arguments… something I did not do. In his environment after all, that best practice didn’t make much sense.
When I’m proven wrong, I try to see that as a chance, rather than just a failure. Admitting your shortcomings gracefully is often appreciated by your interlocutor… just like when you have to correct wrong statements/assumptions they do, there’s no need to be harsh. I try to keep in mind that while I constantly deal with some specific topics every day, they may not.
A little bit of gentle “sparring” is fine in my opinion… it helps too, sometimes. But keeping your cool is crucial. More about this in an upcoming post (the first to guess the name of the album gets a cookie!).
From a sales perspective, I believe what your customer tells you is equally important to what you tell them. Just by listening, you can get very useful information, for example:
- “Pain points” of their current solution(s)
- Features / functionality on their wishlist
- Potential competitors they might be evaluating
- Project time frame and budget (if any…)
- Other individuals it might be important to contact
Another important thing to do is “fitting” your solution according to the customer’s environment. Or to say it differently, mapping the features to the needs.
For example, if your product has a broad set of functionality, I believe it is better to focus on the aspects that matter rather than try to speak about everything. There is always time later to further discuss every small detail of the solution… after they buy it 😉
The bottom line (?)
I believe the points above help me in my everyday work and can be relevant not only for technical sales people. You generally have to possess good talking skills to be a pre-sales, but knowing when to “bite your tongue” is equally important for me.
Your personality plays a big role, if you’re very talkative or lacking patience (yes, I’m looking at you, sales rep 🙂 ) it can take a fair bit of adjustment, but in the end it is rewarding both at a personal and business level.
… And if you’ve read this far, you’ve already shown some patience 😉