Can’t Get There from Here (Issue 516)

In which we are reminded that a certain amount of flexibility in sales conversations is helpful, even if it ain’t what we expected.

“Who knows how to get to the airport from here?” asked our client

We had finished our meeting a little early and walked slowly from the office tower to the parking lot, a distance of several blocks, enjoying a softly warm early Spring day – our client, one of my colleagues, and me.

We eased into the rental car, me in the back, client (driving) and colleague in the front.

Neither I nor my colleague knew the way to the airport so our client pulled out her GPS device and programmed it. I did the same with mine in the back seat, saying something like, “Oh, I’m happy to do this so you have your hands free to drive, here we go.”

She finished her programming a little before I did and her GPS voice instructed us to “continue on” for two blocks and turn right. Mine, on the other hand, suggested a left turn.

Unfazed  by the GPS voice from the back seat, she turned right.

My GPS announced, “recalculating route,” then “continue on,” giving instructions to go several blocks and turn right. Her GPS, a few seconds later, suggested we continue for a shorter distance and turn left.

Three or four times, the front seat GPS encouraged a few blocks and left, while mine continued to propose a right turn, from time to time “recalculating route.”

“You know, Nick,” she hissed evenly from the front seat. “This… is a little irritating.”

Ah, helpful is as helpful does. I doused my phone, having the sense that I’d just been a classic “back seat driver” nag only this time, instead of the bickering-husband-and-wife-neither-listening-to-the-other, we’d experienced two GPS systems talking over each other giving conflicting directions, both ‘believing’ that they were right.

(OK, I know you’re wondering, “Where is he going with this?”  So, here you go!)

There are times when we’ve prepared so thoroughly for a call or that we have done “this particular call” so many times that we stubbornly  follow our own agendas (that would be the GPS from the back seat) and forget to listen to and respond to our client or prospect’s agenda (that would be the GPS from the front seat) to the point that our clients or prospects feel, “This… is a little irritating!”

And, just as I thought I was being helpful by running my GPS from the back seat (e.g. “I can do this… you can have your hands free…GPS can be inaccurate… this will be a double check to make sure we’re going in the right direction), we think we’re being helpful to our clients when we try to keep the agenda “on track.”  And, sometimes we are helpful that way.

However… after three or four rounds of “this way…no… that way,” the wise sales person / consultant defers to his or her clients and goes with THEIR agendas, listening intently for clues about what’s going on. Frequently, said clients or prospects will provide those clues and it turns out the direction that they want to go is better than the direction that we want to go.

Which is how it turned out in the car that afternoon. Her GPS was correct. Mine was… recalculating route…

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