Top TEN #6 – Be careful about what you know

Knowledge is great but a liability when misused. This is sometimes the case during a sales call.

Some years ago, a young man was hired to sell cars. He knew nothing about cars and worried about failing. He compensated by asking questions: How much do you typically drive in a year? Do you want a family car? Is your preference luxury or economy? Despite his limited knowledge, the young salesman did well in his first month and sold 6 cars. To help him along management sent the young salesman to a training program. The salesman returned excited about all the automotive knowledge he had gained. Now, rather than asking questions, he could impress customers with all he knew about cars. He did, and his sales dropped to 2 cars in his second full month.

What happened here? The young salesman applied his newly acquired knowledge in a way that made him considerably less effective. Had he learned that ‘selling ain’t telling’ he would have held his know-how in reserve. Not giving a dissertation on auto mechanics but applying his expertise only as needed to address specific customer needs.

Knowledge becomes a problem when it’s delivered in large doses and out of context. It doesn’t inform but instead bores and stifles interaction. Like throwing logs on a campfire when the first flames burn, too much information kills a conversation. Some call it ‘information overload.’ In earlier tech days it was known as ‘core dumping.’

Whatever its name, rattling off facts, figures, and studies to dis-engaged listeners is dangerous in any setting, and definitely during a sales call. The only time this approach might work is when the buyer is more in need of us than we are of them. That said, no sane person would rely on such a strategy even when selling the latest and hottest thing. We might be kicking butt today but, without customer interaction, how do we learn what’s needed to kick butt tomorrow?

The expert who talks too long and puts forward information not relevant to the prospect runs the risk of being seen as a boring blabbermouth. Rattling off details in the hope of touching on a topic of interest is the definition of scattershot, and a recipe for turning people off. Title and credentials don’t matter and won’t compensate for a dialogue that’s not happening. ‘Shut up!’ thinks the prospect.blabbermouth

Knowledge should only be shared when it’s needed.  In these instances, it is appreciated and heightens the prospective buyer’s confidence in us. But it shouldn’t stop there. A statement should almost always be followed by a question. For example, after answering a question, we might follow-up with: ‘Is this a topic of key importance to you? Should we explore it further?’ Do not assume that because someone asked a question that it’s necessarily a topic of “key importance.” We must confirm this. If you feel your question might sound foolish, consider phrasing it like this: “Sorry, I don’t want to assume anything, but is this a topic of key importance to you?” Find a way but, even if it means asking a question that makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t assume!

As with a presentation, there are moments when we need to tell our story and explain complex issues. We need the prospect’s attention, and we need them to listen. To make this happen, we need them to participate. The less they participate, the less likely they are to understand, remember, and get excited about our solution. As many feel immediately afterward, a presentation without questions and feedback is usually a failed one.

We overcome this problem by working to make our presentations interactive – looking for every opportunity to get the prospect involved. Imagine that you can only speak for as long as you can hold your breath — about 1 minute. Then you need to come to the surface, breathe in some oxygen, and ask a question or two. Using this paradigm allows us to set a pace for our presentation and a method for engaging the prospect.

Getting to this point requires a radical downsizing of presentations. The majority are loaded with details and information that is unnecessary and difficult to absorb in a single meeting. Such presentations contribute to the presenter’s tendency to rain information on the prospect, potentially turning them off to our solution. A presentation with less information is more likely to be understood and retained, and more likely to prompt questions and stimulate dialogue.

Consider using the Kawasaki 10-20-30 Rule as your benchmark. 10 slides, 20 minutes, and a font size no smaller than 30. The Kawasaki rule is bendable, but the principle isn’t. Keep your message simple. Focus on the value you offer relevant to the prospect’s needs. And come prepared to ask interesting and provocative questions, and enjoy the conversation that follows.

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