So frequently have I stepped to Jetbridges and hotels in the last six weeks that I can’t recall in which hotel on which night I heard the song again. “If,” penned by David Gates, recorded by Bread in 1971. It was a #1 hit then and (with apologies to all of you who thought about dancing to “If” or actually danced to “If” at your weddings, your parents’ anniversary celebrations, or other special moments) it has stuck with me : Gates’ syrupy falsetto covering extraordinary lyrics of hope and love…
If a picture paints a thousand words…
If a face could launch a thousand ships…
If a man could be two places at one time,
If the world should stop revolving…
For me, the lyrics are haunting and touching both because they express hope for ever-lasting love and because they send us inside, to think, “what if…?” We can all turn that way, inside to think, and the words lead us to different places – we’d all, perhaps, have different answers to the question, “what if…?”
Which is why (sorry to jerk you back from your dreamy reverie so suddenly) “what if…?” is such a powerful tool in conversations with clients and prospects.
When we meet clients or prospects, they tell us stories – their interpretations of past events, their perspectives of today, and their thoughts about upcoming months or years.
Most business owners I’ve met can tell these stories fairly easily in answers to questions like “what events had the biggest impact on your business in the last several years?” or “how are you feeling about your company and your position today?” or “how do you see your business changing over the next several years?”
As they look forward, they make assumptions about the economy, their customers, production, people, competitors, and so on.
As sales people, there is great value to us and to our clients in discussing their thoughts about the future, how things will evolve. There is even deeper value in “stress testing” the assumptions with “what if…?” questions.
For us, as sellers, the value in the answers to “what if..?” lies in understanding what might happen to a business if conditions change and how easily business owners can see appropriate strategies t cope with the changes.
For bankers interested in providing business loans, cash management products, and other services, “what if” conversations clarify the possible extent of need and risk.
Client: “We’re expecting sales next year to be 15% higher than they have been this year.”
That seems reasonably solid yes? So, then we dig in a bit:
Seller: “That sounds very exciting. (Pause) What if sales grew at 25% rather than 15%?”
Client: “Well, we’d have to add some additional equipment and, perhaps, a second shift a few nights a month.”
(Now, there’s plenty here to work with, like “what if…. what equipment weren’t available?” or “what if… you couldn’t find the people you needed?”, and we’ll let it go for now.)
Seller: “Interesting. I see. So, let’s go the other way. Let’s say the economy remains flat, you and your competitors are all scrapping for business. What if… your sales rise only slightly and your profit margins fall by, say, 25%? What then?”
You can see, we could press on for quite a while, exploring “what if…?” scenarios that best frame our clients’ or prospects’ circumstances, vulnerabilities, and opportunities.
Once we’ve generated what seems a full picture, we’re able to say, “based on your current situation, and the likely ‘what if’ scenarios we’ve talked through, here’s what I recommend… This approach will take care of the conditions you believe most likely with flexibility to change through a range of other conditions.”
In short, we’ve helped our client think through contingencies that, probably, they hadn’t considered on their own. Very helpful for them. Very helpful for us.