Never interrupt a customer to make a point

The top idea was top by a country mile. A huge percentage of the replies made reference to it either by example or by using the actual word. The skill they spoke about most was listening. Active listening some of them called it.

Here is the art of listening going wrong for an architect. He had the job of advising two new homeowners on how they should use the space and carry out the refurbishment of an old run-down property they had just bought. Unfortunately there was a hiatus between the carrying out by the architect of the survey and the first meeting with the new owners. He used the time to speculate on what they might want to do with the house. What did it lack, in his view, and what would they have to do to put that lack right?

When the owners arrived for the first meeting they had prepared a list of their requirements for the property. Despite this the architect went ahead and presented the ideas that he had already sketched. After all, that is human nature. We all want to show our original ideas off since they feel so right to us. The architect was in fact interrupting the customer to make a point. When the customer eventually tabled the list, it was very different from the first thoughts of their adviser. They now had a situation of the customer not wanting to make the adviser feel bad, and the adviser feeling the need to defend his work. Despite all that went after, the relationship never got over this appalling start.

In any aspect of sales technique—including listening—I am not really comfortable with the art of selling being allied to the art of war. After all, it cannot be right to have the customer, play the role of the enemy; clearly the enemy is the competition. On the other hand there is an element of struggle about it. The customer is trying to probe the salesperson’s defenses of integrity and truth to discover inaccuracies. The customer, with the best will in the world, recognizes that the salesperson has another agenda apart from helping the customer to solve problems or be happier. They are there to take orders of the right products (from their point of view) at the right time (also from their point of view).

Consider, too, the change in the relationship between a salesperson and a customer when the sales campaign is over and the salesperson has the order. Before the order the relationship is mutually interesting and the salesperson is working hard to engage the customer’s liking and respect. After the order the important thing becomes the salesperson’s company performing to specification. Now that can become a battle and the customers know it at the time of the order. As one of the contributors put it, ‘The relationship is never the same after the first successful sale by a salesperson to a new customer.’

Customers can be forgiven for feeling a little like landed fish. So maybe war analogies do have some merit. Here is a version of the listening idea from a man writing about war.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

To get to know yourself and your enemy takes the art of listening, the top sales idea of all time. –Sun Tzu, The Art of War.