What’s The Payoff? (Issue 932)

In which we are encouraged to move clients forward by asking about payoffs rather than pain.

I didn’t know what to write about this week… so I looked around my office. My office is a mess. Said another way: It’s not conventionally organized. At least, I suspect that’s what you would think if you walked through the door.

My bookshelves are crammed  full of interesting books and folders. I’ve got a file cabinet covered with bulging file folders. On the floor, you’d find a baritone horn, half a dozen briefcases, four or five shoulder bags for carrying stuff around, tourist literature from trips I took in 2016 and 2018, a half filled container of antifreeze, a pile of books I’d like to read, a college class newsletter open to the page featuring the names of all of my classmates who have died by this point, a box of CDs I want to give away, a frameless oil painting (a lovely beach scene) turned on its side, two small oriental rugs, and a double brown paper shopping bag with a bunch of fruit in it. There’s more, but I’ll stop there.

 About half my desk is covered with stuff. There’s the phone, the computer, and a back-up hard drive. There are pictures, photographs of my family, a small pen and ink drawing by one of my favorite artists, a box of business cards collected at various conferences, and a stack of greeting cards sent to me by my family on various Fathers days and birthdays – I pick those up and read them from time to time, they’re rather refreshing.

It’s a nest as much as it is an office. And I’m very, very comfortable in it. But I can see the time when I will need to clean it up and, now, from time to time, I have the idea, “You know, you should really clean this up.”

I have a coach. I talk to the coach every Friday morning for anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. You know, the usual stuff. And one of the routine items on that list is: “What steps will you take this week to clean up your office?“ Because I once had the idea that cleaning up would be important.

She lives four hours drive away from me. I have made so little progress that she has offered to come and work with me to clean up the office. She’s referred me to one of her friends who lives near me who does this for a living. I have a friend in California who does this for a living. Helping business owners clean up their spaces.

But I haven’t done a thing. And, each week, she asks  me, “What are you going do this week to work on your office space?“ and each week I do some small thing… But not much.

Last week, she changed the routine. Instead of asking me, “What are you going to do…?“, she asked me, “Should I take this question off the list?“

Great question! So, I said (you can see this coming, can’t you?), “YES!  Take it off the list.”

Do you have clients like this? You can see they should change something. They can see they should change something. But no matter how much you nag them or share with them the benefits of cleaning up their mess, whatever mess they’re in, they don’t do it.

So, a new question to ask: “What’s the payoff to you of having your office look the way it looks?“ Maybe solving THAT problem would be worthwhile.

To one of your clients, the question would be similar: “What’s the payoff to you of continuing on with the status quo?“, whatever issues you’re discussing.  Because, until you and the client both understand the answer to that question… nothing will change.

The toughest thing we, as sales people and change agents, have to work against is the status quo. And the usual method of dealing with that is to create a scenario in which continuing with the status quo leads to such disaster that the client is willing to change now rather than waiting for the disaster to happen. In the old days, we called that “administering pain.”

So, you could try that. But, maybe, it would be more productive for both parties if we just asked, “What’s the payoff to staying with the way you’re doing it now? Why are you doing it that way and what’s the pay off?”

Just a thought. I’m going to go think about that one so I’m ready for my coach this week.

Nick Miller trains banks and credit unions to attract and expand relationships with business clients through better skills, sales strategies, and execution. He is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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