Varying the Mix (Issue 575)

In which we are reminded to vary the pace, style, and focus of our questions to maintain energy and engagement during sales calls.

The French Open tennis tournament is history and now…. we’re approaching the BIG one – the tournament to which I look forward each summer – Wimbledon.  This, largely the result of being the son of an English mother who absolutely LOVED that tournament.

As I pulled my for-years-largely-unused tennis racket from its perch in the closet this weekend, I was reminded of a similar moment a couple of years ago. One Friday night, I went down to the local courts for an hour of backboard work and there, on the same court, was a MUCH better player practicing serves, preparing for a weekend tournament, it turned out.  So, I asked him whether I could stand in to return serves and chase balls for him. Happily, he said yes.

So, over the course of 15 minutes, he methodically hit about 100 serves, all of them fast, pinning my ears back and exploring my vulnerabilities, one serve about every ten seconds.  Even though I kept reminding myself this was a gift, a huge opportunity for me to learn, I noticed that I started to feel bored and frustrated, as in ‘when will this be over?’

Then,  out of nowhere, my serving buddy tossed the ball up, and I could see he was preparing to hit a serve with LOTS of spin, so I prepared myself for it.  He hit the serve – a motion I’d never seen before – and over it came. I stepped in to take it early as a rising backhand curving into me and…. and it bounced AWAY from me – did the complete opposite of what I expected.

I swung clumsily, off balance, missing the ball by two feet, and laughed with delight and surprise. My serving buddy grinned.

From that point forward he mixed his serves, and the rest of the hour flew by.

Substitute “questions” for his first 100 serves and we have a sales call in which we ask long strings of hard-hit, penetrating questions without varying pace and focus. Our prospects and customers start to feel frustration and wonder, ‘when will this be over?’

We can vary the pace and spin on our questions in a number of ways, including:

  • Echoing,
  • Interpreting, or
  • Sharing some of our own experience or perspective.

When we “echo,” we repeat the last few words of a sentence with a vocal inflection that makes it sound like a question.  If our prospect says, ‘Our sales results have fallen a little short of expectations,’ the echo could be ‘A little short? Or ‘Short?’  Our echo encourages further disclosure or description.

Interpreting means ‘interpreting the meaning of a statement to confirm we’ve understood it.’  If our prospect says, ‘Our sales results have fallen a little short of expectations year to date,’ an interpreting statement could be, ‘You’re feeling concerned,’ or ‘You’re wondering whether you have the right strategy in place to make up the difference.’

Sharing experience involves a statement like, ‘We’re seeing that trend more broadly in the industry at this point, and many firms are responding by doing X. What are you thinking?’

The key is mix up the pace, style, and focus to maintain client and prospect engagement and energy while we’re exploring the issues.

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