A few nights ago I had dinner with a friend who recently started a new job, and finds herself in a sales position, with no sales experience, in an organization that doesn’t spend money on sales (or any other) training.
Listening to her complain (she would use a different word) about the difficulty she’s having landing sales appointments, getting prospects to agree to second meetings, and closing deals, I had a chance to explain how sales works, i.e. how to listen to customers and prospects and to provide them with the answer to the question “What’s in it for me?”
One of my friend’s complaints was that prospective customers were usually monosyllabic when she asked them about their current spending on the sorts of services her company provides. “I just can’t get them to talk to me,” she said.
“Well, how does that question help them?” I said. “They’re not your customer yet, so why do you need to know the answer?”
“I need to fill in that number on my report when I get back to the office,” she explained.
Well, there’s your problem.
The prospect doesn’t care that my friend has to fill in that number on her report. The prospect cares only about one thing: getting his or her job done faster/better (and where to go for lunch). If you can’t help with that, just go to the movies during the afternoon (a favorite pastime of unsuccessful salespeople here in Japan, where I live) instead of making sales calls.
My friend told me another story about having had trouble engaging a prospect. “During the whole meeting she just sat there looking at her fingernails. I couldn’t get more than two words out of her at a time.”
“Did you ask her about her nails?” I said. My friend said she’d tried, but had gotten nowhere.
I then suggested she should have spent five or 10 minutes, or whatever it took, talking about nails.
Who cares about nails, you say? Well, the prospect, apparently. And if the prospect cares, you should care.
A few years ago a business partner of mine developed a terrific educational game for the U.S. Department of Defense. This is a game I recommend to everyone, and it will be of particular interest to people in the humanitarian aid and development business, though most of you will breeze right through it.
Connect with Haji Kamal is intended to provide soldiers deploying to the Middle East with basic cultural awareness and sensitivity training, and puts them in position as non-commissioned officers advising an inexperienced junior officer about to meet with an Afghan village elder.
Please play the game for yourself (and let me know what you think!), but the point of the story is that at the outset of the meeting, Haji Kamal offers the officer first chai, then lamb, as gestures of hospitality. The gameplay makes clear the officer is concerned about the potential for getting sick from the food, and doesn’t like chai, but [spoiler alert!] if you refuse the chai and the lamb, you lose the game right away.
As many of you know from your own field experience, Haji Kamal is not specifically interested in sharing chai and lamb; he is being hospitable, as his culture demands. And your role, as his guest, is to respect his culture.
Now, back to my friend and her nail-obsessed prospect. If it takes five minutes, or 10 minutes, or longer to make a connection with a prospect, that’s what you’ve got to do.
You say your own nails are chewed to the quick, and that you’ve never had a manicure? That’s an opportunity for you to ask for advice! “Wow, your nails are really pretty. I’ve never been able to do anything with mine. What do you recommend?”
My friend also complained (again, she would use a different word) about the difficulty she has had getting past “gatekeepers” while making her cold calls. To me, her problem is that she is refusing the chai and the lamb. Of course, most office receptionists are not offering chai and lamb over the phone, but if my friends treated them as if they were, don’t you think she’d be getting farther?
What’s the relevance of all this to the humanitarian aid and development business?
Well, in my experience, everything is sales. Every fundraising call, every negotiation with a supplier, every encounter with a person you’re attracted to in a bar or coffee shop.
Everything. Is. Sales.
And the people who are good at sales are good at putting themselves in their customer’s (or prospective customer’s) shoes. What does the customer/prospect want?
They want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?”
That’s the ball you want to keep your eye on.
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant who has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. He is the editor of Aidpreneur.com and producer of the Terms of Reference podcast.