The Know-it-all

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling — Terence A. Hockenhull

IT’S BEEN A relatively quiet day today. I have been able to sit here with the door to my office closed and get on with some long overdue report writing, proposal preparation, and other administrative tasks. Yet, I know it is only a matter of time before someone barges in with a dozen issues for me to sort out.

Inevitably, their first question will be, “Are you busy?” Tempted as I am to suggest that the reason my door is closed is because I am in fact, very busy, I will almost certainly ask them what they want.

A conversation will follow where I learn exactly what is needed. If I need additional information, I will ask for it. If my boss, colleague, or subordinate is able to satisfy what I want know about, I will be more than happy to keep quiet and let them talk. Unfortunately, I am willing to bet the next person through my door will be the one person I do not want to see.

Firstly, he rarely starts his conversation with a question. Indeed, rather that asking what I am doing or if it is convenient to talk, he barges in and talks non-stop until I hold up my hand and then tell him to stop talking. He always looks genuinely nonplussed by this and given half the chance, will continue with his utterances without interruption.

It should be easier for me to take the lead and find out, through a series of questions, exactly what he wants. Oh, but there this a problem here, too, as he doesn’t listen to the questions and provides answers that are completely unrelated. He is so desperate to think of what he will say next, he completely switches off to questions he is being asked.

He really is a very frustrating fellow to deal with. But sadly, he is not unlike many salespeople I have met over the years. They seem unable to tune into what their customers want and focus instead on what they want to sell. They tend not to ask questions but would rather pitch their products in glowing terms.

Human beings are social animals. We are also highly intelligent (certainly compared with mollusks, earthworms, etc.) For the most part, we enjoy conversations. They allow us to empathize with the other person’s point of view, attitude and position. We can find out what they like and dislike. We can, once we get to know someone through conversation, make judgment calls about their thoughts and feelings.

Many years back, my younger brother was dating a very attractive, highly intelligent young lady. I guess he must have been quite smitten by her, as he subsequently married her — but apparently not that smitten, however, as some years later, he divorced her, too!

The first time I met her was at my parent’s house. We sat down for a pleasant lunch, but within five minutes, she was not only dominating the conversation but also telling me what movies I ought to see and what music I ought to like. All this without any attempt to get to know me.

So, what is this all about? Well, it occurs to me that my brother’s ex-wife (and my employee) are not like most of us. The vast majority of people we come into contact with throughout the day will base a conversation on asking questions, listening to responses, and answering the other person’s questions. We write off those who fail to listen, who dominate conversations, or who appear to be know-it-alls, who don’t want to accept that other people may have their own unique (but perfectly valid) ideas and opinions.

Now, what is really strange about this is that salespeople, — from being normal, well-adjusted, social animals who can engage in quality conversations with the friends and family — suddenly change as soon as they wear a salesman’s hat. Instead of meeting with customers and finding out their likes, dislikes, needs, and requirements, they suddenly opt to be know-it-alls who want to dominate the conversation by talking about their products and services without letting up.

There are reasons for this. In some, cases young salespeople may feel intimidated by older, more sophisticated customers. As a result, they retreat to their comfort zone, which is talking about subjects they know best.

In some cases, this one-sided dialogue may be done for all the right reasons (but with devastating consequences). The salesperson may genuinely believe that he is helping his customer make the right decision and needs to be told what to do or what to buy.

At the end of the day, our customers are intelligent people. They do not want to be lectured to. They want to make sensible and informed decisions based on good information. When they have questions, they need to be able to ask and get answers.

This is a conversation — the very same conversations we all have most of the time with our wives, husbands, children, friends, and colleagues. Why oh why do so many salespeople fail to carry the conversational art through to the sales meeting?

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.