Status

Remember, the goal isn’t to be high status, the goal is to be useful to your client. The shift from low to high status is just one sign that you are being useful.

seesawIn the world of improvisational theatre, actors have discovered a tool to make improvised conversations more lifelike. They introduce into a scene the concept of status. One character adopts a lower status role and the other a higher status role. In theatre status is a tool. In real life status just happens. The adoption of a status is not pejorative. It just is. And that’s the reason status makes a conversation more real. Because, however subtle and changing, every human interaction has a status component to it.

Different situations have different status codes. For example, think about the person who works the door at a bar or club. Imagine, the guy checking ID’s at a half-full sports bar in a university town. Now imagine, a long line at a Manhattan techno club and three huge bouncers dressed in black with headsets on. Depending on the context, the status of the bouncer can be very different.

How about a waiter at Chili’s?

“Hi, I’m Bill. I’ll be your server for tonight.”

Will Bill generally take a higher status role or a lower status to his customer?

If one party doesn’t know the code, as often happens when we go to a different country or culture, it can be great fodder for tension, and hence improv. Take a professional waiter at a Parisian café? It’s his career. He knows the menu, the food, and how it’s prepared like the back of his little black vest. He doesn’t rely on tips. Plus he’s Parisian. He has a reason to adopt some level of status. (If you want to ramp up the status of the service employee even further, imagine a seasoned sommelier at a fine Parisian restaurant.)

The Paris café waiter is a classic status riff for Americans. The snooty waiter starts high status, has a comeuppance, and ends up being obsequious to the client he was snubbing. We Americans love that storyline. We expect the waiter to take a lower status role to the customer, and when he doesn’t the story has tension.

You naturally play status games all the time. If you made breakfast for a friend and served his eggs, you might say playfully, “Here’s your eggs, jerkee.” (high status) Or you might present them with a flourish, “Your breakfast, your highness.” (playing low status to your friend)

As a salesperson, what status do you take when you visit a client?

Usually, entering your client’s office, you’ll offer the higher status role to your client. It’s their space. Your client probably acceded to your request for a meeting. It’s entirely appropriate and normal for you to offer the high status role to them.

Taking the low status role doesn’t mean that you have no control. You’re the one who has experience with sales meetings. You should control the process. And the best way to take control is to ask for it.

“I have a process I follow in client meetings. It involves me asking questions so I can figure out if I can be useful to you. Is it ok with you if we follow that process for the meeting?”

Most people will say yes, or they’ll say, “Actually, there are some things we want find out.” And they’ll tell you the key items on their agenda — useful information to have. (Deferring the high status role to your client, and asking for process control has already paid you a dividend.)

Paradoxically, one way you know you are making progress is when your client grants you a higher status. For example, your client recognizes your expertise and asks you questions about which they are curious or concerned. Remember, the goal isn’t to be high status, the goal is to be useful to your client. The shift from low to high status is just one sign that you are being useful.

The ideas from this post come from Never be Closing. We hope you found them useful.

7 Reasons to Meet Your Client at a Neutral Location

parcs-american-diner-02 2The best place to meet with your client is at their office or work location. There is so much you can learn just by being in their workspace with their colleagues that it’s usually worth it to go to your client for a meeting. We have written a number of posts about why meeting in your client’s office is useful, and how you can leverage being in their workspace.

The exception, however, makes the rule. A neutral location can have advantages. Here are seven:

  1. It’s often less formal. A meeting at a restaurant or a café or an industry conference is usually a more informal environment than an office. It’s a more personal experience that can be more conducive to starting a relationship.
  2. Your client will be less distracted. The office has lots of reminders of things they need to get done, not to mention the possibility of interruptions by co-workers for tasks unrelated to your meeting.
  3. It’s geographically desirable. It can save you time to meet at a place that works for them and is nearer to a place you have to be anyway.
  4. It might imply a higher level of commitment. Rather than just being in their office when you come by, your client is making an effort to meet you.
  5. You can pick up the check. Everyone likes to be treated.
  6. It’s easier to leave. If the meeting turns out to be a waste of time, it’s easier to depart when you’re not being hosted by your prospect in their space.
  7. Because your prospective client also knows it’s easier for them to leave as well, it may be easier to get a yes to your request for a meeting, (It’s a lot easier to drink your coffee and go than it is to get a tenacious salesman out of your office.)

Like anything the right decision is contextual. Yes, in general it’s better to meet at your client’s office, but there are reasons that make an offsite preferable. The key is to get face to face with your prospective client. Where you are face to face is secondary.

The ideas from this post come from Never be Closing. We hope you found them useful.

The Most Important Moment in Sales

When you walk into a meeting with a new client, a useful metric for sustaining a meaningful dialog is five questions: five questions that occurred to you as you were researching your client; five questions that are conversation starters; five questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no.

Preparing for a face-to-face meeting with a new prospective client

questions-cloudsHow much research is enough to go into a meeting with a prospective client in order to lead a meaningful dialog?

It’s self evident that as a salesperson you should know the obvious things about the company with whom you are meeting. Is their market cap, their supply chain, or current industry news, information you should know based on the industry you work in? A grasp of the information that is relevant and easily available is a hygiene factor. Knowing this background data is necessary, but it won’t get you very far in terms of a successful meeting.

When you walk into a meeting with a new client, a useful metric for sustaining a meaningful dialog is five questions: five questions that occurred to you as you were researching your client; five questions that are conversation starters; five questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no.

Why five? Five satisfies the Goldilocks principle. It’s not too many. It’s not too few. Despite your research some of your questions will be dead ends, either because your client doesn’t know the answer, the answer doesn’t lend itself to any further exploration, or you learn the answer in the meeting before you get the chance to ask it. A couple will generate traction. Five is usually enough to get and keep a conversation rolling. The goal of your five questions is to find new and better questions, questions that your client has not yet solved, questions that your client has not yet even articulated, but if solved would help them move forward. (We call these catalytic questions.)

As you do your research, look for what you are naturally curious about, and then construct open questions that require your client to think and work to answer. Questions that require a detailed answer start with stems like…

Can you tell me about…?
What was/is the motivation for…?
How did you accomplish…?
Can you explain the reasons for…?
What’s the impact of…?
Why…?

It’s natural that some of the things you’ll be curious about are areas that relate to your product or service. If you’re selling a recycling service, you might say “I saw in your annual report a commitment to environmental sustainability. How is that impacting your division this year?”

Remember, to prepare for a meeting with a client, generate five questions that meet these three criteria..

Questions…

  1. You are genuinely curious about.
  2. May link to your product or service.
  3. Start with an open stem like the ones listed.

Now, you’re ready to have a productive first face-to-face with a new client. Good luck!

Why a Sales Conversation is Different from a Normal Conversation

conversationA good sales conversation involves the salesperson asking questions. As you listen to your client answer the questions you ask, your brain will give you ideas about how you might help. In a typical conversation, you’d probably offer these ideas as they occurred to you. In a good sales conversation with a client, we suggest you don’t say your ideas as they occur to you. You wait. You stay in the question. In this way, a good client conversation actually modifies the natural conversation process slightly. Here’s why.

1. Once you start talking about your idea, especially if you only have one, and double especially if it relates to your product, it’s hard not to defend it. And defending your product or idea at the beginning of a meeting is not a good start to a productive sales conversation.

2. At the end of the meeting you are most informed. An idea you had early in the meeting will get better (or discarded) as you learn more from your client.

3. It’s a powerful dynamic to summarize, at the end of a meeting, all the ideas you have to help your client (not just those linked to your product). It shows you listened with them in mind, throughout the whole meeting. It illustrates your potential value on many levels.

It takes practice to modify your normal conversational method; to not interject your ideas; to hold them until the end. Here are some conversation modification tips to help you stay in the question.

1. Look for and ask open–ended ‘How to…’ or ‘How might you…’ questions. ‘What might be all the ways…’ is another nice stem. These are open-ended questions that leave space for lots of answers and conjecture.

2. ‘Can you tell me more about…’ is a great starter to keep you in the question. (Ok, it’s technically a yes or no question, but it works like an open ended one. If the answer is ‘yes’, folks will usually go ahead and tell you more about it.)

3. Often you’ll have an idea or an answer jumping to get out of your head. You want to say, “You should expand to the south?” It’s hard not to. Try turning it into a question.

“To achieve more scale, have you though about expanding to the south?”
(This is better than saying. “You should do X.”)

But, you probably noticed that the question above is really an idea disguised as a question. It’s better than saying. “You should do X.” But, it’s not open-ended.

So, instead of proposing your idea, turn your yes-no question into an open question.

‘What might be all the ways to achieve scale?’

Maybe they already tried expanding south, (or whatever X is). If they have, the ‘What might be all the ways’ question above will usually elicit that. And hearing all the other things they tried so far may give you more ideas about what else they could try. Note those ideas, and save them until you’re finished questioning.

The most important thing to remember about Questions is to stay in them. The question starter stems help you do that. Again, they are..

How to..?
How might you..?
What might be all the ways..?
Can you tell me more about..?

Remember, stay in the question.

The Walls Have Ties

waiting_room_2Your clients’ offices — including reception and common areas — are their habitats. They’re filled with clues about the company and its culture. Think of the waiting room as an anthropological research opportunity, where you’re exposed to resources that aren’t available in company reports or on the Web.

There are topics for discussion literally littering the walls. The artwork, the trophy case, the plaque, the photo of the ribbon cutting, the mission statement, the free soda machine (or the pay soda machine); even the building itself if it’s company owned. All of these are data about the founders, the principals, the charities, the activities, the culture of the office and the organization. Each item is a knot tied in the thread of a possible conversation. Each thread is a connection to your client. Weaved together they represent the relationship between you and your client. One starting point is striking up a conversation with the receptionist and learning something new about the company and the people in it. In Never Be Closing we call this being a Waiting Room Jedi.

Jane is a salesperson arriving for a meeting with a prospective client at Boston Sabre. Let’s see what kind of a waiting Room Jedi she is.
“Hello, I’m Jane Anders. Here to see Juan. You’re Mary?”
“Yes, hi.”
“Juan told me I’d recognize you by your smile. Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise… Oh, it looks like he’s still on a call. I’ll check back in a few minutes. You can have a seat. Can I get you anything?”

Jane says, “No, I’m fine,” and sits down to wait.
The hell she does.
Why make this the end of their interaction? Instead, Jane initiates a conversation.
“I noticed the health club downstairs. Do a lot of people here use it?”
“We get a special rate for being in the building. So it’s a good deal.”
“Oh, has Boston Sabre been in here a long time?”
“Three years. As soon as we moved in, the health club offered us the discount. A lot of people joined.”

“Makes sense. Why’d you move?”
“The company? It was part of a reorganization where they separated corporate from manufacturing.”

Jane has a new piece of information about Boston Sabre. “Sounds like there’s been some growth.”

“You could say! We’re already looking for more space.”
Jane wanted to know more about the corporate culture. “Are there a lot of active people here?”

“You could say that too. We have company volleyball, basketball, and softball teams. It’s a young company, and we’re a pretty social place. The teams are a good way to burn off stress.”

Jane knew about stress. “You bet. . . . Do René or Juan play?”
“See that photo in the case. Juan’s the one getting the high fives. That was just after he hit the game winner for the league championship.”

Jane could see the energy in Juan’s face. “Looks like he likes to win.”
“You could say!”

In just a few minutes of friendly interaction, Jane was able to gather several business and personal conversation starters. What might she start to surmise about the things that energize Juan? And what are the chances she’ll mention the photograph in her conversation with him?

Of course, she could have spent the time checking her e-mail. But then she wouldn’t be Jane, Waiting Room Jedi.

It’s up to you whether you spend your waiting time in your client’s habitat checking your email or being an anthropologist — looking for clues to better understand the people you’ll be meeting with. Ask the receptionist questions about what you see. Say hello to people you run into. Introduce yourself, and tell them why you’re there. Use the restroom. Ask where you can get yourself a coffee. There is no standard list of avenues to discovery in the waiting room. The more curious you are, the more you’ll learn. It’s a simple equation.