Matted Down (Issue 537)

In which we are reminded to follow our “broad” questions with very specific questions that tease out the detailed facts we need to propose value-based solutions.

With apologies to y’all in Texas and other states who haven’t had rain or grass for a couple of years:

I mowed our  lawn on Saturday. Beautiful day for mowing, just a little bit of cool fall air with brilliant September sunshine.   Thanks to recent rains and the fall dose of lime and fertilizer, our lawn is thickly green, punctuated with early fall leaves.

One small hitch in the giddy-up.  The ride-on lawn mower we use for grass and leaves at this time of year features wide front and rear tires that matt down the grass so that the mower blades ride over the matted grass which can get pretty long, even when we’re mowing weekly. So, after we mow, we rake portions of the grass, teasing up the matted down long bits so that we can clip them with hand-clippers or mow them with the standard rotary mower.

On Saturday,  I found places where the grass was so matted down that I had to get down on my knees and use my fingers to tease it up, a few bits at a time, in order to cut it back with the hand clippers.

We have a similar challenge in sales conversations. When we ask wide questions like, “What sorts of challenges do you have with managing your cash flow?” we’re driving the sales call equivalent of the ride-on mower. We can cover a lot of ground but the blades ride over a lot of information that is matted down.

So, we have to take a second pass – get down and use our sales “fingers” to tease up the matted down information–  using brief, direct questions that elicit specific, exact replies, for example:

  •  “In which month do you expect your inventory level to peak?”
  • “How much cash do you expect to pay out to your suppliers, by month, leading to the peak?”
  •  “In how many weeks following each of those cash outflows, do you expect to receive inflows sufficient to recover your costs?”

Once we’ve teased up this matted down information, we can ask questions that focus on the consequences of the answers we’ve heard, for example:

  •  “What might you have to defer or not do if the cash flows are, in fact, what you’ve just described?”
  • “What do you see as the short term and long term impacts of these deferrals?”

These questions are a LOT more powerful if we know the facts because we can precisely quantify the gaps with our prospect or client.

The details we elicit are also useful when we’re presenting our ideas or recommendations.  In order to position the value of the recommendations, it’s helpful to know… specifically … the dollar amounts and timing of the costs we’re proposing to reduce or the increased revenue or value we’re proposing to increase… compared to the cost of our solution.  Teasing up the matted down tufts of information can help us make that business case.

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