First, let’s recap: According to my definition, the ideal sales conversation is a:
genuine and productive dialogue between individuals who share a common purpose
In effect, it’s one in which two (or more) minds think together. That can only happen when both sides trust each other enough to open up, and are willing and able to learn from and to teach the other.
It’s primarily the job of the salesperson to ensure that the conditions are in place for trust to exist. For the first, here’s a quote that anyone in sales will recognize:
They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
But caring is not enough to establish trust; good intentions are useless unless you can deliver. They also have to have confidence in your competence. So, the corollary to this is:
They don’t care how much you care until they know how much you know.
You need both—concern and competence—to achieve an ideal sales conversation. To put both those words into even plainer English, you have to care and to know.
I can’t say too much about this aspect without climbing up on my soap box and preaching, so let me just put it this way. Sales is a great career for making money, but the paradox is that the real money comes to those who don’t make it their number one concern. The best way to get what you want is to help clients and customers get what they want—and much more importantly—what they need.
You don’t get caring from reading a blog post; you either have it or you don’t, and customers can tell.
The practical reason for caring during the sales conversation is that it will put you in the outside-in frame of mind; it will make you curious and genuinely interested in what they have to say, and customers can tell that, too.
Until trust is firmly established, information is like currency; you have to spend some to get some back. That’s how your initial knowledge will make the difference between an interrogation and a willing exchange of information and ideas. Knowledge of that customers want and need comes from business acumen and preparation.
Business acumen is a prerequisite because it’s the best way to open up a productive dialogue. It’s the best way to translate your product knowledge into insights about how to improve your customer’s business operations and then express those improvements in the language of increased revenues, lower costs, greater cash flow, and reduced risks.
Remember, you get sent to who you sound like, and without business acumen, you will be stuck at the influencer level. You can still have great sales dialogues at this level, but they will not be as productive as those with high-level decision makers.
Business acumen has to be supplemented with preparation, because the perception of value is highly personal, and every company and every situation is unique. It’s one thing to know in general that your solution may lower costs and improve cash flow; it’s on a different level entirely to know the specifics about your counterpart’s costs and cash flow.
Your depth of preparation will send a loud and clear message that you take it seriously; it is a clear signal about both your caring and your knowledge.
The best thing about caring and knowing is that they can be mutually reinforcing. The more you know about a customer, the more you care; the more you care, the more you want to know.