What Were They Thinking? (Issue 1044)

In which we are reminded to understand both how and WHY our clients and prospects have organized things the way they have.

We’d been airborne about 30 minutes. The passenger sitting next to me in 18B learned over, pulled up his briefcase, and extracted a quart-sized zip-lock plastic bag from which he removed earbuds and a phone power cord.

“How many zip-lock bags do you carry,” I asked?

He looked surprised seasoned with defensiveness.

“Only one….”

He looked away and then looked back at me.  “It’s the bag that TSA specifies to carry liquids.  I found it was useful for my electronic gear, to keep things in order.”

“Ah, interesting plan,” I replied. “I use the bags for many things.”

And I do, much to the continuing bemusement of family members and colleagues.  If you looked in my briefcase, you would see that I slide my laptop into a 2.5 gallon zip-lock bag, my phone cords and chargers into a quart-sized bag, my spare Kleenex into another.  If you opened my clothing suitcase, you would see my clothes – shirts, pants, blazer, ties, shoes, etc. –  folded or rolled and packaged in plastic bags that are then efficiently laid into the suitcase like building blocks.

“Ah, interesting plan, my friend,” you might say, joining my family and colleagues.  “Do the letters “O”, “C”, and “D”, taken together, mean anything to you?”

Yes…. so then it’s useful to ask, “Nick, what led you to this way of doing things?”

And then I would tell you. “For the laptop, I had a water spill in my briefcase. A friend introduced me to the big bags to protect my laptop. For the Kleenex and the power cords, it’s a good way to keep things from tangling, like the guy in 18B said. For my clothes, I saw an article about packing in plastic bags in a travel magazine – the bags streamline packing and unpacking, protect the clothes from wrinkling, and (since I travel with duffel bags) protect the clothing when there’s rain.”

“So,” you might say. “Your primary concerns were water and efficiency.”


OK, now we’ve moved from OCD to the organizing principles I followed.   I’m greatly relieved.

And, so might our clients be if we asked them that same question – “What led you to this way of doing things?”

As we lead discovery conversations with clients, we sometimes find ourselves thinking, “How in the world did this crowd get so screwed up?”

Rather than starting from the perspective, “they’ve got it wrong,” it can be more useful to start from the perspective, “it looked right to them at the time,” and then ask the questions, “At that time, what led you to this way of doing things?” and “How have things changed since then?” or “How is this arrangement working for you now?”

The answers to those questions illuminate their rationale for their starting point (which looked right to them at the time) and their current position (how things have changed, perhaps not working so well) and guide them through a process to see a new solution without telling them they made bad decisions.

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at https://clarityadvantage.com/knowledge-center/ .

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