“We might not be the right company for you.” Said no one ever, right?
Not so. I say it often and coach my clients to do the same. “Steve…you counsel people to TELL their potential client that their company might not be the right fit?” That’s right. I put it in the category of Cognitive Dissonance, having thoughts that are inconsistent. Allow me to explain.
The Unexpected Opens the Conversation
So often, I see people go into a meeting with a predetermined goal of securing new business without giving serious consideration to the possibility that their firm might not be the right one for this client. Get the business….get the business…get the business. That’s the sole focus.
How do you know you are right for them already? You’ve barely just met and already you’re thinking about marriage! What I say often to potential clients is, “I’m not sure I am right for you. That’s why I’m here, so we can discover that together.” Wow…does that open up the conversation! They were expecting me to sell my service in whatever way possible, not to admit that I might not be their guy. From that point, they start to see that I’m not there to sell them something they don’t need, but to determine if I can provide something that they do.
Unidirectional vs Open-ended
If you come into a presentation focused only on selling, you are setting up a unidirectional conversation. In your mind, it can go only one way. But, if you let them know that your goal is to determine whether you are a fit, that leaves the floor open for them to give you information that will help make that determination. And best of all, you are working together to see if the relationship will be mutually beneficial. Let me repeat one word here: together! From this one small shift in your normal method of communication, you have already created an alignment that distinguishes you from everyone else who comes through the door.
Now that you’ve shattered their preconceived notion on how the meeting was going to go, you can get down to business in an atmosphere of objective inquiry. You’ve prepared probing questions so, now is the time to dive into them. As you listen to the answers, you are not looking to find openings where you can sell your product/service. Rather, you are looking for evidence that this relationship could work out for both of you for the long term. They will be doing the same.
The important thing is that their guard is down. You can see it. Many times, I will observe someone’s shoulders drop, they take on a more relaxed demeanor and will talk far more than they might have otherwise. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your forbearance. Allow them the time to get into details about their “compelling event,” the thing that is most on their mind. Use my favorite open-ended question, “Really?” to have them provide more insight. The more you learn, the better positioned you are to discover if your firm has the solutions they need.
“But Steve, my supervisor will kill me if he knew I started meetings saying that I wasn’t sure our firm was a good fit.” No he won’t. Once you start establishing strong relationships based on a mutual decision that your firm IS a good fit, your docket will be full of business that has long-term implications for your firm. Who doesn’t want that?
Can you do it? Let me know your thoughts on this approach. – SG