I was recently reminded of a valuable sales lesson I learned many years ago. One that’s kept me in good know-it-allstead.

Back then I was being interviewed for a job as an expert in a particular field in IT. Question after question was thrown at me. I answered instantly and with confidence. After all, this was my area of expertise.

The post interview feedback was enlightening. Some interviewers thought I was “too glib” and had come across as arrogant. They thought I hadn’t given due consideration to their questions and concerns. They felt not listened to.

In this case I was lucky. I still got the job.

Not so for John who related a similar story recently.

John had been asked to give a preliminary estimate on a complex multi-million dollar project.

The consulting third party project manager knew John well and convinced the prospect to have John directly quote rather than go to tender.

John is exceptionally talented in his field and given his decades of experience, has an uncanny ability to estimate accurately based on back of napkin designs.

Ironically, this is where he came unstuck.

The prospect was unpleasantly surprised at the price and asked John to requote on the basis of the completed specification.

John, however stuck to his guns. The original price was correct – even in the face of new and complete information.

The prospect became decidedly unhappy and insisted the job go out to tender. And John lost.

There is a final irony which I’ll get to at the end, but let’s look at what might have been going through the prospect’s mind. See if you can relate.

All complex decisions involve risk. There is the risk we could be making a mistake. There will be costs – physical, monetary and emotional if it goes wrong.

So there is fear. Fear that can sometimes paralyse and have us take the “safe” option and do nothing. Or look for other solutions to compare with.

Your job as the salesperson is to bring these fears out into the open so they can be dealt with.

The one thing you must never do is downplay them to your client.

John inadvertently fell into this common trap.

By sticking with his original back of the napkin estimate John gave the impression of arrogance.  Knowing John, I can assure you he’s not, but perception is everything. 

Nor did he dig into his prospect’s concerns about price or give any suggestions as to how it could be reduced.

There’s an old saying, “Seek first to understand, then be understood”.

The prospect probably didn’t feel “listened to” or “understood”. He lost confidence in John and insisted in getting other quotes.

So what are some of the lessons here?

Listen. Really listen to what your prospects want. Notice I said “want”, not need. You may well know they need something else, but don’t try and ram it down their throats.

You need to educate your prospects and fully explain your conclusions.

Be patient. You may have heard the same objections time and time again. Not so for your prospects.

Words have meaning. Look for the motivation behind the question. What are they really asking?

So don’t be glib in your answers. Pause and think about what your prospect is really asking and give a considered response.

Then clarify if you’ve answered it – to their satisfaction.

The biggest mistake salespeople make is believing something is “obvious”. It may be obvious to you. You have the expertise and do this stuff every day. It’s not obvious to your prospects. They don’t have your level of knowledge. That’s why they’re hiring you.

So whatever you do, never appear condescending. Treat the person and the question with respect.

Back to the final irony regarding the job John lost.

It appears the opposition got the job due to a significantly lower bid. But once the job was underway issues surfaced and brought the job in about where John had originally estimated it would be.

So everyone concerned missed out in some way. John missed out on a large deal. The client missed out on the exceptional result John would have delivered. And the referring project manager might have lost some credibility in his client’s eyes for referring John in the first place.

My wish for you is to not fall into this trap.

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