Ask First. Then Tell.

In which we remind ourselves that clients don't always want our advice. A friend called a couple of weeks ago to check in. We hadn't spoken for a while, so he asked, "What's new with  Clarity?" I responded -- business has been good, we have two new articles out, and we've just launched our refreshed web site. "Oh," he said. "Let me take a look." 

(pause, pause, pause) “I’m on your site now.”  (pause, pause, pause).

“Hey, you know what? This is good, but  I’d make (this) bigger, and move (that) over (there). I think your (this) could be much more prominent, and I’d change (that and that) so that it’s more (the other).  And (pause, pause, pause) I really think you ought to consider adding (this) as well as (that).  There’s another company’s site that I really like and you could do (this, this, and this)  and reconfigure (that and that), it’ll be very powerful.”

(Pause, pause, pause) “Thank… you,” I croaked. (Pause, pause, pause) “Very helpful ideas.”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” he replied, happily. “Any time. I really enjoy talking about these issues.”

Now…on the one hand:  What a terrific guy! He’s a friend.  He wants to see us do well. He wants us to put our best foot forward. He is willing to share his experience and expertise freely to help us. Very cool.

On the other (and, while this moment lasted for only a few moments, it was very powerful): How could he know, since he didn’t ask, WHY we designed the site the way we did, how it fits with our vision, how we want it to serve our clients?

And, how could he know, since he didn’t ask, whether I might be open to his helpful suggestions and commentary?

The nerve of that guy!

Now, you might say, “Oh, Nick, GROW UP!  Accept his gift.”  And, you’d be right. The moment of feathers ruffled was an “it’s all about my ego” moment. Guilty as charged.

However, our CLIENTS and PROSPECTS have those moments, too, and they’re not necessarily feeling the love when we are feeling the urge to share our expertise with them.

From the “Ask first, then tell” department: The conversation would have been a lot more engaging for me (since it IS all about me!) if he had started with a question, something like, “How did you decide to design your site this way?”  Followed by, “And what has been your experience so far?”

And, then, with my response in mind, said something like, ” Terrific. You’ve done a wonderful job with this.”  (Affirmation and validation are good, any time!)

And then, on “hearing” my smile, said something like, “As you gain more experience with this, I’d love to hear about it. I have seen some things  that might be helpful to you, whenever you’re ready to think about your next iteration.”

At which point, I would have thought, “Oh, THANK you, I’d really like to hear your perspective.”

So, in a sales call, it goes like this: We ask questions. Our client shares answers. We see immediately, “Oh, you should do this, this, and this, and we could help you by doing that and that.”  And then we leap immediately to proposing a product or an idea. “Oh, we could help you there by….”

NOPE! For three reasons. First, our quick response suggests we didn’t think about what we heard. Second, it’s VERY likely that we don’t yet understand the situation fully, and so we’re likely to be off-base, drawing what sounds to us like an “objection” which we might be tempted to “overcome.”   Third, we sound more appreciative and respectful (which supports trust in the discussion).

So, in said sales call, we should respond first with: “Interesting. How did you decide to do it that way?” and listen to the answer.  Then, “What has been your experience with this?” At that point, with an idea in mind, we can say, “Hmm, I see that… and I have an idea. Would you be open to hearing an alternative?”  Or words to that effect.  A “yes” answer to that question gives us an INVITATION to share our ideas and creates a space in which we and our client can work together on an idea rather than repeat the “pitch – object – overcome” minuet.

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