Mother, Please! (Issue 489)

In which we are reminded to ask a few questions to determine whether our clients are really open to outside solutions. Frank is one of our neighbors... smart, funny, knowledgeable... and I do my best to avoid conversation opportunities with him.

It seems that, no matter what the situation, Frank is quick to express an idea that would lead to improvements. Many of his ideas are good. It’s just that… I don’t want to hear them.

When I see Frank, I remember a television commercial for a headache pain reliever in which a woman (“the mother”) and her 40-ish year old daughter return to the daughter’s house after grocery shopping. As they arrive in the kitchen, grocery bags in arms, the mother makes a suggestion about the groceries; the daughter’s hands rise to her forehead, we see a pained “I have a   R E A L L Y   BAD headache now” look, and the daughter shouts, “Mother, PLEASE. I’d rather do it myself!”

What happened? Well, leaving aside the daughter’s accumulating 40 years of feeling that her mother was invasive, meddling, and suffocating, the mother “did Frank:” she pitched solutions before the daughter had decided that she needed outside advice or products.

Gosh! Does that sound familiar?

As salespeople, we frequently assume that our clients have headaches which we amplify through our deft questioning, we offer pain relief, and we pitch our products to relieve the pain. Who would NOT want pain relief?

Like the TV commercial mother, what we miss is: Our clients work in environments or cultures that, for the most part, think they’re OK and would rather do things themselves.

In particular, our clients’ environments would rather not change by bringing in new things from the outside, no matter how much they paid for them. If they bring in something new from the outside, they prefer to isolate it so that they have to make the minimum change possible or even reject the change completely. Another flavor-of-the-month avoided, back to business as usual. Greed may be good; change, not so good.

So, to our list of “must ask” questions, consider a few that come before pitching ideas or products, for example, “What have you already done internally to address this challenge?” and “What plans do you have to keep moving forward with the solution internally?” and “What other things in your company might have to change in order for you to achieve the results you seek?”

It is only when we hear responses like, “We’ve tried everything we know, we don’t have the internal resources, and we’re going outside,” that we know we might have a prospect who is seriously considering outside solutions.

Otherwise, the ideas we pitch are likely to produce the same responses we saw in the commercial: “….PLEASE! I’d rather do it myself.”

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