When Warren Buffett and Bill Gates first met in 1991, or so the story goes , Gates’ father asked each of them to name their most important trait.
The answer was simple: Curiosity.
When I read this a while back, I wasn’t surprised at that statement. Without curiosity, there is no progress because the meaning of curiosity “is a strong desire to know or learn something”.In the sales world there often seems to be a lack of curiosity replaced by the desire to sell a product or solution without regard whether the audiences we are selling our services to are a good fit, or even interested in what it is that we are offering.Many times, I have have sat in on presentations where sales people pull up a PowerPoint presentation and then immediately dive into an overview of their company, their services, their product.There wouldn’t be anything wrong with this approach if the sales person had done a needs assessment prior to the presentation and/or did extensive research on the organization they are pitching. But sadly, that’s seldom the case.In sales, we often spend a lot of time putting together shiny, glossy overviews, tapping into valuable internal resources without ever having asked even one question.
The only way to position a service/product to an audience in a meaningful way is to take a step back and ask basic open-ended questions. In case you don’t know what opened ended questions are, they are the ones that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”. They start with what/when/where/how. Why questions are also open-ended but they tend to put people on the defensive (just like “why did you do that?” is a question that usually doesn’t trigger a positive reaction).Let’s imagine a scenario here. You are invited by a Fortune 500 company to do a pitch. We don’t know who will be in the room, we just know it’s a bunch of high level executives in marketing, but we don’t really know what their roles are. All we know is that they are looking for a solution to help them optimize their advertising spend. Your sales person prepares this outstanding presentation, asking the engineering team, marketing and technical sales to chime in with their wisdom.
Imagine you are the prospect
Everybody feels really good about the presentation, because they view it through their own internal lens, rather than putting themselves into the shoes of the prospect.The meeting is scheduled for a Wednesday and the sales person, accompanied by a technical sales representative dives right into the presentation with pride. They feel good about the accomplishment, because there is so much preparation that was done.The audience is polite, listens to the introduction where the sales person talks about the history of their organization, their unique technology platform and how well it works.Slide after slide is presented, there are hardly any questions from the audience and after 30 minutes the presentation is finished. Some people get up to get to their next meeting, some people inquire how the platform is different from any other offering in the market place, and then the Head of Marketing requests information on pricing as a follow up.Some people would view it as a successful meeting, I would view it as a missed opportunity.Related: Tony Soprano’s Advice on Sales Leadership
Always make sure there is a solid next step arranged
First off, there is no solid next step arranged that will help move the sale along. There is simply not enough information that was gathered to provide a price point. But more importantly, the sales person never found out why they were invited to the meeting in the first place. There is no such thing as a good presentation, unless there is a clear understanding what the audience expects.
Without asking questions, we just shoot into the dark. Presentations are designed to address a need, to guide the audience through a process and to clarify issues.Here are some simple questions that would have had a huge impact on the outcome: What are you currently doing to measure the effectiveness of your advertising? How would you like to use the solution? Do you prefer a dashboard or reports? When are you planning to launch (or switch, if they work with a competitor)?
Presentations are not self-serving vehicles to position a company or a solution, they are an opportunity to respond to specific business needs.Here is the bottom line. If sales people are more curious, they will get a chance to help their clients and prospects to be better at what they do. That’s the only reason why we get invited to present in the first place. If your solution doesn’t help your clients and prospects with their business objectives, it’s worthless
.Make sure that you don’t waste people’s time and that you add value to their life by positioning your service in a way that will help them be more successful.If you can do that, you will be viewed as a trusted advisor, rather than a sales person.There is only one way to find out what people are looking for.Be Curious and Ask Questions!!