At dinner one night, a long-time friend’s spouse turned to me and said, “Nick, is that all you are going to order for dinner?”
“Yes,” I responded. “I’m pretty excited about it.” As others at the table were ordering prime rib, the half-chicken with French fries, or the lobster mac and cheese, I was ordering a salad that had tomatoes, capers, bits of fresh focaccia bread, lettuce and a dressing comprised of olive oil, goat cheese, and vinegar.
“You look like you have lost weight since I last saw you. You should eat more.”
I offered a soft deflection. “Thank you, I know you’re concerned about me. I appreciate it.”
She persisted: “You know, if you ever were to get sick, you would not have a lot of reserve to count on….”
She was right about that. I run pretty lean.
“… so, order something more than a salad!”
My internal voice argued: “If I get sick, I’ll deal with that when the time comes and you have n o i d e a about what I’ve already eaten today or this week or this month!”
I acknowledged her concern with a pleasant nod… and ordered the salad.
Bless her heart, she perceived a problem and an opportunity to begin fixing it IMMEDIATELY.
We run into the same challenges when we meet with prospect or clients. We’re looking for opportunities to FIX SOMETHING NOW so we can make a sale. So, our questions tend to focus on what we observe NOW and the challenges clients are facing NOW so we can propose a solution NOW and make a sale, NOW. At dinner, this went: “You’re too thin, you’re ordering salad, you should eat more now.”
The difficulty is that clients’ complex challenges exist in the context of history and a set of beliefs and principles developed over time. Unless we ask about the history and beliefs that landed them here, our recommendations (“order more food”) sit without context and draw immediate objections (“you have no idea what I’ve already eaten”) and they’d be right.
So, yes, it’s useful to ask questions about current situations, challenges, and priorities for change AND, instead of immediately building urgency (“you’ll have no reserve if you get sick”) or recommending a plan (“order something more than a salad”) it can be useful, first, to ask questions that focus on context, like, “How has your business evolved over the last few years? What were some of the key inflection points or major events when things changed? How did those events influence the way you manage the business today??”
So, at dinner, the interrogating spouse could have said, “Nick, I’ve known you a long time. I notice you’re still very careful about food. How have your views about that evolved over time? What are the strongest influences on your decisions about what and how much you eat?”
That could have been a MUCH more interesting conversation leading, perhaps, to the outcome she was encouraging.
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