When dealing with a customer in Business, two of the best things you can do as a professional representing your company is to find out as much as possible about your ally and to respond in a truthful, prudent and meaningful way to any questions directed your way. These are most definitely listed in order of importance. All good interactions can (and should) begin with the “engage, listen, question, interject” plan. There are exceptions, but like the old adage “you can’t go wrong with this approach” certainly applies.  Since information flow is more valuable with both sides chiming in the second stage of any can’t miss interaction is to open yourself up to the customer. If you walk away from any encounter with a prospect or new customer without learning anything or exchanging thoughts about the TOPIC, then the meeting was, for all intents and purposes, a waste of time. Frontline sales people should be particularly skilled in applying this, although it is alarming how many do not. The last Selling 101 action to take is walk away with a reason to get back to them. Do not leave this in the hands of a customer. They are busy and, as much as you and your ego would like, they are way more important to you than you to them.

In my humble 25 years or so dealing with customers in unique sales situations, I have learned that I am way closer to knowing absolutely nothing than I am to knowing everything, aka “known knowledge to all knowledge ratio or KK/AK). The only way to improve this ratio is to decrease the amount of information that exists or to obtain more knowledge of what does. For obvious reasons, the pursuit of the latter is germane to our discussion here, which involves asking questions whether verbally or by observation. Many of us have been put in a place where we are prepped for a preconceived behavior. This includes meeting a love interest’s family for the first time or, more on point, an initial meeting with a new customer. Lacking any input on what you are about to face, does not mean you are going in cold. Subtleties in e-mails or in talking to an assistant or information yanked from social media about your subject (for lack of a better word) are easily obtained.

Now that you armed with as much background as possible prior to engagement is a time to find out more. Entrée questions such as their involvement in youth baseball or as a volunteer for a non-profit pulled from their LinkedIn profile makes for a perfect icebreaker. As the mood lightens from this seemingly pointless exchange, you have now put out the welcome mat for a more pointed conversation. What products are you considering besides ours (and why)? What are things you liked about our proposal? What were some things that were not memorable or useful? What is the decision making tree in your organization?  You may not hit the mother lode of info, but you probably have increased your KK/AK ratio by a skosh.

At any point during your interview (yes it is indeed an interview), mingle in the solicited reply with offering a taste of your feelings and encouraging your interviewee to ask the same of you. You don’t always have to agree, but you can express an alternative that makes you look thoughtful and your counterpart feel they are getting something from you. This so subjective that it is difficult to give a specific example. Suffice to say a reaction to a response of the moon is made of cheese can be along the lines of “I have never thought of looking at it in a cheesy way. Very interesting. I have always thought the moon was just rocks and dust, but you opened my eyes.”  You get the point. Be sure to let the customer know who you are with emphasis on those areas of mutual interest or benefit.

You can make yourself a little checklist with the following:

  1. Warm introduction
  2. Off-topic comment or question – small talk
  3. Listen
  4. Get progressively more on point
  5. Listen
  6. Interact and become part of the discussion
  7. Solicit questions
  8. Listen
  9. Review action you will take requiring a follow-up discussion
  10. Listen

This should become second nature as you work in the desired objective into the situation at hand.

Get knowledge, learn more, offer your insights, conclude with an action requiring further contact. Simple? Yes. Well practiced? No. Increase your KK/AK ratio and you will get better guaranteed.

P.S. With absolutely no scientific evidence or study, let’s say all knowledge totals 1000. Smart guys like Einstein or Warren Buffet, would have known knowledge of a number of about 0.01 or a ratio of 1/100,000 and those guys are way smarter than you or I. Just sayin…