The Aha! Moment

November 1, 2012

By Townsend Wardlaw

Working with clients on sales effectiveness we tend to spend a lot of time talking about exactly how things should be done: How to pursue prospects; How to perform discovery; and How to dig for real needs before trying to sell them something. I refer to these process details as ‘mechanics.’

To support the process, we build templates and tools that can be used for meeting preparation and for capturing information during the interaction. One of the reasons Artful Discovery is so challenging is because it is a non-linear process. By this I mean the conversation doesn’t unfold in a neat, sequential manner. Artful Discoveryrequires you interact with prospects on a number of different topics and levels simultaneously. By design, the conversation wanders around so it is really a challenge to keep track of where you are. Having effective tools to organize your preparation and capture notes during the meeting is critical.

Ultimately though, Artful Discovery represents an evolution for the individual in terms of how they think. Moving from away from pitching your product to seeking understanding is something I’ve watched many times and it’s definitely a challenge for folks. Unfortunately, no tool or worksheet can get around the reality that Artful Discovery requires a shift in ones philosophy and belief system.

I tell folks that in the discovery process you need to remove from your thinking any attempt to lead this person to a destination (or a revelation) because it works against the process. If you come across as asking deep and insightful questions simply to find or create an opening to pitch them… that intent will show through and taint the whole process.

Because this shift in behavior and belief is so difficult, I really appreciate the transformational moment when an individual makes the mental leap into this new way of thinking. Sometimes I hear about the a-ha moment after the fact and sometimes it happens over the phone during a coaching session.

Once in a while I get the opportunity to witness this phenomena live and that is really a lot of fun.

This very thing happened last week.

I was sitting down with some frontline salespeople and we had been working on Artful Discovery quite a bit. We had built some tools and frameworks and were doing basic role-playing wherein I provided feedback and coaching on the words they were using, the questions they were asking and how they were asking them. I let them know when they were getting too specific too quickly or sneaking in selling words.

One of the individuals in particular was working through this challenge and was trying to figure how to incorporate this new way of thinking. At some point in the day, his eyebrows picked up and he said ‘You know this kind of reminds me of when I used to do some outreach work with prisoners.’

As I understand, this gentleman was a priest or something like that and used to go out to prisons to talk to inmates about their life and about the lord and that sort of stuff. I latched on to this suggested we talk about his experiences.

So there you are,’ I said, ‘talking to one of these inmates and my guess is you didn’t really walk into the room or the cell or wherever this happened and start rambling about the lord or, why they need to believe in Jesus.’

Of course not’ he responded.

Well what did you do?’ I asked.

Well you know, I’d ask them what’s going on, I’d ask about their life and just sort of try to figure out where they where coming from.

Ok’ I said, ‘What was your motivation for asking them all these very personal questions?

He thought for a minute and answered ‘Because I wanted to unders….

You could almost see a light bulb appear above his head and the rest of sentence came out.

‘I wanted to understand them so I could find a way to help.

In that moment I could see in his eyes that the connection had been made. This was a very powerful moment and he was pretty excited. I can tell you that his conversations with prospects since then have been noticeably different.

The punch line here is it has always been my belief that successful salespeople must be articulate and possess above average intelligence. They must also demonstrate a characteristic that is impossible to teach but often requires a great deal of coaching to fully develop and that is a capacity for caring.

Hopefully you find this story gives you inspiration and motivation to continue pushing yourself to focus on caring about your prospects so that you can fully understand their needs and, ultimately, help them succeed.

Read more at www.townsendwardlaw.com



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