Knightly Tales (Issue 411)

In which we are encouraged to hear our clients stories as guidance toward the solutions they need and want. I could not stop myself. I had to tell my company's story. Last Wednesday, I sat with Clarity's Practice Manager, Maureen, at our conference table in the company of the very wonderful Susan, an expert in an accounting software we use. Susan and Maureen had talked for a bit about our use of the software and challenges we are experiencing. I was joining the meeting as "the owner and President of the Company."

I greeted the very wonderful Susan, thanked her for investing some time with us, and asked how the discussions had been going. I was very “presidential.”

“Fine,” she said. And then, she continued something like: “Your chart of accounts is set up wrong. You have far too many accounts and you’re mis-using your ‘categories’ which is why you can’t get the reports you need. Also, there’s ___and ___and ___. And, you need to do this, this, and this in order to fix it.”

So, I smiled, presidentially, pulled out paper and pencil, and began to draw and talk. I felt compelled … COMPELLED … to tell her the story of our business – how we’d developed our accounting system, why, and what it meant to us. She looked a little shocked.

Sales people, particularly those calling on owner-managed companies, frequently say “business owners just LOVE to tell their stories,” giving the impression that the sales people listen with patient bemusement as owners recount stories for their own enjoyment or to entertain visiting dignitaries, waiting for the opportune moment to pepper the business owners with questions that identify needs for which the sales people can provide solutions.

“I’ve worked with so many companies,” confided one seller, “that I see the solution to a company’s problems very quickly. After that point, I don’t have to ask a lot of questions. I tell them their problems are typical of many companies I work with, I tell them what they need to do to fix them, and I try to conclude the conversation quickly so I don’t waste their time.” Almost like: “We have to listen to these goofy stories we’ve heard 100 times so we can get to the real meat of the conversation.”

While some clients might appreciate this [“Susan understood our problems quickly, recommended a solution, and got out of our hair fast.”], others might not [“Susan asked five questions, then recommended a product. It might be the right product, I couldn’t tell you, but I’m not confident she really understands us very well or what we’re experiencing.]

As the owner, I want to make sure we get the right solution with the least amount of disruption, rework, and false starts. I felt compelled to tell our accounting system metamorphosis to the very wonderful Susan because I wanted to be sure that she understood the context in which she’d be working and what was important to us. I could care less about entertaining her. She sounded dangerously like “I don’t have to ask a lot of questions.”

So, as we’re listening to our prospects or clients tell their business stories, we could ask ourselves, “why?” Why are they telling these stories, this way, just now? Some may want to entertain and recount their knightly tales. I’m guessing, more often than not, they’re hoping their stories will help us provide them the right solution.

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