I spent the majority of my work life in sales. I enjoyed being in sales and I was very good at it. At various points in my career I was in management or mentoring positions in which I was involved in training newbies. At an early point in the process, there was a question I always asked him or her:
“As a salesperson, what do you think is your most important asset?”
I got a very wide range of answers. “My intelligence, and ability to think on my feet”. “My product knowledge”. “I’m a very persuasive speaker”. “I’m a persistent closer”. “I never take ‘no’ for an answer”. “I know the competition, and how to comparative sell against them”. “I’m very likeable”. Etcetera.
Extremely few people ever got the right answer. My response was almost always: “That’s a great asset, but the wrong answer. Your most valuable asset is your ears. It’s your ability to hear when someone’s talking, and hopefully to LISTEN to what they’re telling you. Because they’ll tell you what’s important to them IF you’ll listen to them.”
My first step on any call was to establish (or re-establish) rapport with a little personal chit-chat. Human nature dictates that people prefer to do business with people they like, plain and simple.
Once the actual sales dynamic started, I didn’t launch into some canned speech about how great my product or company was, or how lousy my competition was; I asked questions. “What are you trying to achieve? What’s your budget? What performance criteria are important to you?”
You’d be amazed at what you can learn. People usually love to talk, especially about the things that are important to them. A “good listener” is welcome anywhere, and that’s who you want to be. Further, as they’re answering your questions, they’re telling you exactly what you need to know in order to present to them a solution that will fit their requirements. It allows you to tailor your presentation to their self-expressed concerns and interests, and present the proper product to fill the bill. If you sell cutlery and the guy’s looking for forks, you’re going to be dead in the water if you start pitching spoons. He can only afford silver jewelry in your store, and you’re trying to push platinum. You’ve set yourself up for failure.
You may not have a product that precisely fits their desires, in which case you need to establish how much they’re willing to compromise, then present your product that best fits those needs. Sometimes that will be acceptable, sometimes not. There comes a point at which a final decision is reached, and you must be prepared to accept that decision, favorable or not. Sometimes you have to simply walk away. But doing so gracefully leaves the door open for you to come back later when the next opportunity presents itself.
“That’s all very interesting, Brian, I’m sure”, you’re thinking, “But what does that have to do with Obama?”
Well, here’s your answer.
Obama ran a pretty good election campaign, the “establish rapport” part of the process, and the fact that his opponent ran such a bad campaign made him look even better than he actually was.
But over the last year, while he’s been in office, he’s been absolutely tone deaf. His “most valuable asset” to which I earlier referred is not in use. The result? His polling numbers are dropping faster than a porn star’s pants.
It’s not as if his potential clients – the American electorate – haven’t been telling him what he needs to know. They’ve been doing that loudly, clearly, and distinctly; at townhall meetings, Tea Party events, and through polling. They’ve emphasized the point through the elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts.
Obama’s response? “I haven’t been speaking to the American people enough”.
Are you kidding me? The guy’s on TV more often than American Idol and the ShamWow guy combined! The only way to get away from him is to hide in your bathroom, and I won’t be surprised if he tries to follow me in there, too!
No... his problem is that he’s still trying to sell refrigerators to Eskimos, and he refuses to LISTEN when people tell him they don’t want that product. And the net result of ignoring your client’s needs and continually pushing a product they’ve told you they’re not interested in is that you squander whatever goodwill you’ve built up during the “rapport” stage of the process.
His State of the Union speech last night confirms everything I’ve written in this essay. In spite of rejection after rejection at the polls; Tea Parties everywhere; townhall meetings at which his policies are all but set on fire; polling data that shows him losing support and goodwill right across the board; he STILL insists that he’s just going to keep pushing even harder.
Good for conservatism (if a certain party pays attention), bad for liberalism... and Obama.
Addendum on 28 Jan 2010:
And doesn’t this just say it all! From that article:
“He accepted partial blame for the deep troubles facing his health care push, but he implored lawmakers to finish the task rather than yield to public opposition.”
Yeah... Damn that pesky “public”! Who cares what THEY think?