Sunday, February 24, 2008

How to keep your foot out of your mouth

When I read the following article, I was reminded of a former salesman of mine, that introduced me to a potential new client with the words, " This is Scott Howard, my sales manager, I brought him with me for the kill."

After assuring them that I've never killed anyone, and they were safe, we moved forward.

Here's a great article about this subject:

How We Sabotage Our Own Sales (And What To Do About It)

By Jeff Thull

No professional in their right mind would sabotage their own sales intentionally. Nevertheless, self-sabotage – the act of undermining one's own credibility and alienating the very clients and prospects we count on for our livelihoods – occurs with dismaying frequency.

The many ways in which professionals sabotage their own efforts range from obvious mistakes, such as blaming their clients when services do not deliver as promised, to very subtle insults hidden in the things that we say.

On the self-sabotage spectrum, it's easy to recognize the obvious "I should have known better" mistakes that damage relationships with clients. The far more common and harmful situations occur when our words and actions insidiously erode the client's trust and personal credibility that we work so hard to establish.

Here are two sources of self-sabotage that cause professionals to shoot themselves in the foot: "dangling insults," and the "old brain."

The Dangling Insult

We would never insult a client by suggesting he is incompetent or imply to an executive that she is negligent. The very idea is inconceivable, yet it's a common occurrence and professionals unknowingly insult prospects and clients every day.

Here is a typical example. A professional introduces their solution by saying, "We save companies like yours from wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost..."

It sounds innocuous on the surface. Statements like this are standard sales-speak and are often true, but they also contain dangling insults. After all, if you tell a customer that she is wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, aren't you also suggesting that she hasn't been doing her job very well?

Dangling insults are unintentional. Professionals are unaware of the negative impact because they are built into their mindsets and the conventional training they may have received. The professional thinks he is delivering a compelling message and connecting to the client's pain. But to the client, it can sound like the professional is interjecting or ending sentences with, " idiot, sir."

The Old Brain

The manner in which professionals react to their clients' responses can open the path to open and honest communication, or become a primary instrument of self-sabotage. The old brain is not big on interpretation and analysis and in lightning speed reacts by attacking back, submitting, fleeing, nurturing, or allows one to be nurtured.

So how does the old brain affect sales conversations? Continuing the example above, when a client says, "We're not losing anywhere near that much money," a professional might counter with, "I'm sorry, but I think you misunderstood..."

This implies it is the client who just doesn't get it and often triggers an even more irritated retort. The professional is unconsciously engaged in self-protection at the expense of the client, who will often protect their self-esteem and strike back in turn.

Stopping Self-Sabotage

How can we stop sabotaging our efforts? The first step is awareness. We cannot solve a problem until we recognize it. The second step is to stop behaving like a salesperson and begin to behave more like someone keeping our client's best interest in mind.

A good example would be that of a doctor diagnosing a patient's health. During a "diagnostic conversation," the full extent of the patient's problem is explored, measured, evaluated, and communicated. Likewise, if you examine your client's situation, the focus should be on the physical symptoms of the problems they are experiencing, which is their reality. The goal is to raise your clients' awareness and understanding of the problems they are experiencing and what it is costing them to currently manage the services you would provide.

When we are in the diagnostic mode, we are dealing directly with our clients' reality. That is, we are working with situations they have experienced in the past, are currently experiencing, or those they believe they will be exposed to in the future.

In fact, our clients may not be aware that these elements or symptoms could represent significant problems that should be addressed. Through diagnosis we can help bring clarity to problems and a way to make quality business decisions.

The challenge for businesses today is to equip professionals to be more diagnostic in their conversations. There are three primary objectives to keep in mind during "diagnostic conversations":

  1. Uncover the reality of the client's situation. (Do these symptoms exist?)

  2. Quantify the impact of the problem. (How bad is it?)

  3. Create the "Incentive to Change." (Is it serious enough to take action?)

Like a doctor, a quality diagnosis builds exceptional levels of trust and credibility as well as a patient who is ready to take action. In business it means greater differentiation and clarity, clients that respect and trust us, and more sales with profitable results.

Jeff Thull, President and CEO of Prime Resource Group, is a leading-edge strategist and valued advisor for executive teams of major companies worldwide. Thull is also author of best selling books, Mastering the Complex Sale: How to Compete and Win When the Stakes are High and The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins and Win the Complex Sale. Email Jeff at

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