Better Discovery – relevant lessons from parenthood to sales calls

I attended a PEP talk this week about Sibling Rivalry and techniques that parents can use to handle the natural tension that exists between kids. (Totally unrelated – check out this hilarious parody about getting a sibling. It’s well worth the 2 minutes.)

What struck me from the presentation was the discussion about where parents struggle in resolving conflict at home. A key area mentioned was identical to one of the biggest overlooked parts of the sales process – effective Discovery (i.e. listening and questioning techniques.) Here’s what I mean.

familySuppose you’re making dinner, and your kids are in the next room. Bickering. Things escalate and the next thing you know, you’re being asked to intervene because “Suzie isn’t sharing.” And while your instinct may be to put the toy in timeout to make the immediate pain go away, that’s actually not the best first step. Your assumptions about what happened may not be right. And, your kids’ actions aren’t really the problem (duh). To resolve the conflict effectively, you have to take a step back and first dig beyond the latest moment to figure out why there is tension. (“Tell me a bit about why you’re unhappy.” Or… “What were you doing before Jimmy took your toy?” Or… “What would you really like to be doing right now?”) In most cases, it’s probably an issue about your children wanting more of your attention. (I’ll leave that topic to the experts.)

In essence, better Discovery leads to better understanding of the issues… and uninvestigated assumptions about who did what to whom (i.e. is the younger child really the victim?) can be damaging to your parental credibility. More importantly, it could make your job as a parent harder the next time around – and who needs that to get harder?!?

OK, so back to sales. It’s pretty similar. A rep goes into a sales call. He knows a lot about the company, because he’s met the buyer several times before, has asked a bunch of questions, and “has seen this movie before.” He feels confident in how to close the deal. But, instead of testing the buyer to see what’s changed (i.e., Are the strategic objectives the same? Are there any new players? Has the decision criteria shifted? How did last quarter’s earnings impact their plans?), the seller continues through the sales process without having an updated view of the buyer’s needs. And, without that knowledge, and without that certainty, the seller could wind up making the sales process longer and harder to win – and potentially damage his selling credibility. Worse, he could lose the deal without knowing it was in jeopardy in the first place. And who wants to make a salesperson’s job harder?

So to be a better salesperson and parent, you just ask more questions and listen? Could it really be that simple? In a manner of speaking, yes. Keep an open mind, hold off initial judgment, and ask probing questions. The trick is to practice what you know, and lead with your ears.

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