Dangerous Knowledge - What We Know Can Hurt Us

By, Keith Rosen

I recently purchased some advertising space in a national magazine. I have been a subscriber for years and knew everything I needed to know to select them as an advertising vehicle. I called them with one intention, to place an order.

When I called the sales office, the ad saleswoman began doing what she felt was appropriate and that was to start selling me. She began with the history of the magazine, then moved into a discussion about her subscriber base, how effective an advertising campaign can be, and ended with information about her ad design team. She was unaware that I already knew all the information that she decided to share with me.

She never took the time to ask what my intention was in running the ad or what information I might be interested in hearing more about. While she was speaking at me, I could only think about how many lost selling opportunities this must have cost her when dealing with prospective buyers; buyers who didn't have the time or patience to hear what else she had to say that didn't fit for them.

This is not an unusual problem. Many sales professionals spend much of their time during a sales call attempting to educate their clients about their product, service and industry. They think it will stimulate interest and increase the odds of earning a new client. In many cases, this is the same strategy that compromises their opportunity to create a relationship with that client.

Unfortunately, this is the easiest way to lose their attention. Once a person hears something they aren't interested in or if they feel you are providing information that doesn't apply to them, their interest is lost and they stop listening.

A sales call is not the time to test your knowledge or prove how much you know. It is the time to find out what you don't know about your client and what your client doesn't know about you. It is not your knowledge that sells, but how well and how efficiently you customize your knowledge to meet each of your clients' specific needs.

Before you can uncover a client's individual needs and educate them on how your product will meet those needs, you must first uncover what your client already knows.

Your company's presentation materials are designed to assist you in educating your clients. However, it's your job to determine and provide the appropriate information that will fit for their specific situation.

Start your conversation by asking certain questions. Questions will enable you to uncover the information that is relevant to their situation and help to identify the client's intention and expectations of the discussion. Begin your meeting with, "Just so I don't sound repetitive, what do you already know about ...?" Then, based on the information you receive, you can fill in the blanks.

Other questions that help determine what information you need to provide include, "What information can I share that is most important to you?" or "What would you like to see as an outcome of our meeting together?" "How can I best maximize our time together?"

Caution: When listening to what your client already knows, some of the information you receive about your product or industry may be inaccurate. Address this carefully. Instead of correcting the client, simply add another truth to their statement by asking another question or adding to what they had said. Otherwise, while making yourself look right, you run the risk of making your client wrong, thus putting them on the defensive.

Most importantly, learn to put your ego aside and let go of your need to "sell." The most effective presentation is going to be judged by the outcome that you produce not how much information you provide. This begins with finding the right balance of information that your clients want to listen to.

Copyright 1998, Keith Rosen

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