Am I More Comfortable Now? (Issue 414)

In which we learn to not to assume that clients want to fix their problems. I married a nurse. I've developed a taste for stories that capture staff and patient life in hospitals. One of my favorites:

A nurse walked into a patient’s room. The patient’s hands were bandaged. His face and head were bandaged. His legs were immobilized. Without speaking, the nurse crossed the room, straightened the patient’s blanket, shifted and fluffed his pillows, tidied up his tray table, and turned to leave. A muffled voice asked, “Am I more comfortable now?”

Yikes! As in, “Why didn’t you speak to me? Why didn’t you ask me a question? Why did you assume that blanket straightening and pillow fluffing would be helpful?”

This is good caution for us, too. Although we’re taught to ask questions, identify improvement opportunities or needs, and consultatively prescribe solutions to address them, we assume that there’s a “best way” or a “right way” or a “better future” and that our clients and prospects will WANT to fix whatever gaps or needs they have so they can reach that Promised Land.  If they could, why wouldn’t they?

Well, not everyone wants to. I remember the driver’s seat in my dad’s car was a problem. It was just REALLY obvious to me, his visiting adult son, that the seat was broken, that it could be easily fixed, and that he should really want to fix it because he would be more comfortable driving the car. Well, he didn’t see it that way and he never fixed it. My conclusion: There must have been something he liked about having the seat that way.

One way to draw this out in a discussion is to ask, “Why do you like doing it this way?””

For example, suppose we sell small business financial software. We encounter a prospect, an older man, who uses paper ledgers and quill pens to keep his books. We can’t believe our eyes, he’s such an OBVIOUS candidate for a computer and our software, but we remember the question. So, we say: “I see you handle your book keeping and accounting in paper ledgers with a quill pen. Why do you like doing it this way?”

Suppose the prospect says, “I like the feeling of the quill in my hand. And, in the time it takes to write the numbers in the ledger, I think about my business and how I’m managing my expenses.”

Two important clues.

“Anything else you like about it?”

We could go on. By asking this question, and sticking with the line of questioning, we tease out potential challenges or concerns (i.e. objections) the owner might have about switching to a different way of doing things. This knowledge helps shape our thinking about what solutions might work for our customers and what might not, so they WILL be more comfortable when we leave the room.

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