How Would I Know? (Issue 922)

In which we are reminded it’s useful to know how our clients usually handle situations AND their buying criteria before making a recommendation.

A story from a friend:

We had finished our work for the day and the whole group went to dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant. I ended up sitting next to the Vice Chairman of our company, a pub-loving Englishman unfamiliar  with the restaurant.

He asked me, “What’s good here?”

I have been to this restaurant many times and know the menu well. I pointed out a number of menu highlights including several dishes for which the restaurant is well and famously known. He thanked me and studied the menu closely.

When our server came to take our order, he said, “I will have fish and chips, please.”

Noticing that I did a little bit of a disbelief double-take,  he turned to me and said, “I gotta stick with what I know.”

How many times have we been in this situation? A prospect or customer asks us, “what do you have that will…?” and we, filled with hard won knowledge, share our perspective only to hear, “no, thanks, I think we’ll stick with what we’re doing now” or just simply, “no, thanks.”

We could follow the example of restaurant servers who, when asked the same questions, “What’s good here?” or “What do you like on the menu?”, respond by asking the question: “What sorts of food do you like?”

Sometimes, diners can’t answer that question: They don’t know what they are in the mood for, they may be unable to make a decision in the allotted time, or they may just want somebody else to make the decision and ’surprise them.’

And sometimes, they can answer quickly and not helpfully: “I like fish.”

Whatever the case, diner and server cannot easily move the conversation forward from there. “I like fish” puts the server in the position of pitching all the fish on the menu, only to have the disappointed diner say, “Nah, none of those sound good, I’ll have the mac and cheese” (at half the price!) or whatever is their ‘what I know’ comfort food.

However, changing the question CAN move the conversation forward. For example:  “How would you know something new might be worth trying?”

This question sends diners to a different spot, to think about their criteria for doing something other than ‘stick with what I know.”

If a diner says something like,  “Well, I like strong flavors but not spicy hot. I like smaller portions. I prefer fish to chicken or steak. I don’t eat pasta. And,  I love vegetables.”

With those answers, the server has a much better chance of recommending a dish that the diner would enjoy and earning a big smile and tip.

So, back to my friend in the restaurant. When the Vice Chairman asked, “What’s good here?”, My friend could have asked, “What do you usually order?”  (Translation: “What do you usually do in this situation?”)

Upon hearing the answer, “fish and chips,” my friend could have asked the question, “How would you know something new might be worth trying?”

And wherever that answer led, my friend could have made a solid recommendation, been promoted to Executive Vice President on the spot, and flown home in the corporate jet after dinner.

Nick Miller assists banks and credit unions to sell services to business clients through better sales strategies, training, and execution. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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