It’s A Trap (Issue 514)

In which we are reminded that 1 pound of discovery is worth 10 pounds of recovery if we make assumptions and present solutions too early.

At least in the movies, somebody would have called out to me, “Nick!!! Stop!  It’s a trap!”

I received a call from a prospective client with whom I had been communicating, on and off, for several years. I had met him a couple of times, face to face. The conversations were… a little awkward. Something about control… physical positioning in the room… couldn’t quite put my finger on it… never felt they were good calls… felt imbalanced.

So, anyway, I was sitting at my desk one day and the phone rang. I answered and, to make a long story short, he said: “we have been using another vendor for several years. We are looking for something new to help us reach the next level of selling and I don’t think the existing vendor can help us get there. Do you have anything that could help us?”

Barely able to contain my delight after asking a few questions about the situation, I replied, “yes.” We talked for a bit about what “next level” meant and where the existing approaches were falling short. We set up a meeting.

On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, I appeared at his office. He greeted me and escorted me to a large, informal seating area. It was a little like sitting with one other person at a table in the middle of an otherwise empty cavernous restaurant. I felt… small. (See? Out-weirded again!)  “Never mind,” I said to myself. “Let’s find out what’s going on and see whether we can help.”

After exchanging some pleasantries, I confirmed our purpose for the conversation – to share our ideas about taking his sales force to the next level – and I confirmed the time remaining in the appointment (exactly as expected).

“So, show me what you have,” he said. “What’s different about the way you approach this? Why do you think you can take us to the next level?”

(This is the point at which “Nick!!!! Stop! It’s a trap!” would have been useful.)

I answered the question – shared stories, showed a few handouts, walked through the process, talked about results our clients had achieved. Answered his questions along the way. All good, right?

“It’s too complicated,” he said.  “Not interested.”

“But…but…,” I stammered. “What do you mean, too complicated?”

He answered the question, I think.  The answer didn’t make any sense to me. Perhaps, mentally, I had assumed the fetal position at that point.

I fought a good rear guard action to establish a platform from which to work. Really, I did. Asked questions, worked his answers, attempted to demonstrate how we could adapt this, tailor that, provide the other.

“No, thanks, really,” came the conclusion, after a while.

And, it was over. “Can you show yourself out?” were his final words to me, I think.

I have replayed this conversation over and over and over. It haunts me…. I had a shot and I blew it…. I ASSUMED I knew enough about the other vendors’ approaches and I ASSUMED that our telephone conversation covered the current situation sufficiently for me to move to “presentation” rather than to start with “discovery” questions.

Tinkle, tinkle, crash.

Morels of the story:  (1) Never, never, never, never, NEVER assume.  (2) If you think you’ve finished discovery in a previous meeting, then confirm, confirm, confirm the facts before you move to presentation. Further, (3) don’t let wishful thinking displace jaundiced judgment – there’s a good chance that the door wasn’t open nearly as wide as I assumed it was when I rushed in, gooey-eyed. And, finally, (4) be wary… be on guard … with prospects and clients who play power games, even subtle ones.  Negotiation for positioning starts with word one. If nothing else, ask for a different chair!

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