Hold That Thought (Issue 563)

In which we are reminded that, during client presentations, we should answer client questions briefly before asking them to “hold your thought until we get to that slide.”

“I notice that Major and Mrs. Dooley chose different wood for the paneling, flooring, and frames in this room than they did in the last room. Is that right?”

“I’ll cover that in the next room,” said our tour guide.

“Through what sorts of investments other than the railroads did Mr. Dooley generate his wealth?”

“There’s a video in the basement when we finish the tour, that’ll tell you everything,” responded our tour guide.

My daughter and I were touring the castle-like mansion  at Maymont, a Richmond, Virignia estate developed in the late 1800s “Gilded Age” by Major and Mrs. James Dooley.

“How did the heating system work?”

“He brought in the very latest technology. That’s covered in the video downstairs in the basement, you can watch that.”

My daughter and I caught each others’ glances, and rolled our eyes in frustration.  Our guide seemed to know a fair amount about the house yet engagement with tour participants did not seem to be part of the tour. So, we just stopped asking questions and ‘played along’ with our guide, responding half-heartedly to her scripted comments and questions and smiling with childish delight when we knew the answer to a question that our guide expected we’d not be able to answer.  We were both thinking,  “Ha, ha, stumped the tour guide.”  [The answer, by the way, is “narwhale tusks.”]

Have we ever heard ourselves say, when fielding a question during a sales presentation, “Hold that question, I’ll cover it three slides from now” or “Great question, that’s in the support documents we provided for the presentation?”   Wonder if our clients’ internal conversations are much like ours during the Maymont  experience.

As tour guides and sales representatives, we want to “keep the group together” and “stay on script” so we can finish the tour or presentation in the allotted time.  Yup, yup, understand that.  On the other hand, curiosity and questions are signals of engagement, participation, acceptance, and learning, just the outcomes we’re seeking, at least as sales people.

So, while “you can see it during the video in the basement” or “that’s in the support documents” may sometimes be appropriate guidelines to keep a presentation focused on the most important elements, we can do both if we follow a path like this:

Starting again, with the question:

Tour participant: “I notice that Major and Mrs. Dooley chose different wood for the paneling, flooring, and frames in this room than they did in the last room. Is that right?”

Tour guide (affirming): “Ah, good observation.”

Tour guide (now, asking): “ What caught your eye, particularly?”

Tour participant:  “I noticed the change in both the door frames and the furniture.”

Tour guide (now providing a brief answer and a transition forward):  “Yes, well, the reason for that is that each of them wanted their rooms individualized, you see that in quite a few places in the house, and I will share even more about that as we move into the next room.”

Much more engaging!  In a sales setting, then, it might sound like this:

Client: “I notice on this slide you’re recommending remote deposit capture rather than a lockbox.”

Seller (affirming): “Yes, that’s right, good catch.”

Seller (now, asking): “ What prompts you to ask the question?”

Client:  “Well, I’d come into the presentation thinking you would recommend the lock box because the examples you shared in our last meeting seemed to lead in that direction.”

Seller (now providing a brief answer and a transition forward):  “Yes, well, the reason for that is that the volumes of checks you’re expecting and the variations in timing and check size led us to think that the remote deposit capture would give you more flexibility at lower cost, all things considered,   and I will share even more about that as we move into the next two slides.”

In other words, unless their question and our answer are likely to derail the presentation completely, give a morsel, a taste of a short answer,  and then transition them forward.

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