Imagine one of these scenarios:
- You arrive at a customer’s office for a meeting, hoping to close a new deal. Your customer introduces you to his new boss, who is joining you in the meeting. You didn’t know he had a new boss.
- You go to a meeting with one of your internal customers (someone inside your company whom you help and who, in return, can affect your personal results and performance,) planning to get agreement to move forward on a project. You immediately see that your customer is distracted, agitated and upset.
- You have arranged a meeting with your banker to discuss increasing your credit line. For the first 15 minutes of the meeting your banker asks you detailed questions about your business operations that she has never asked you before.
In each case, giving a pre-determined pitch to your customer would set you up for failure in your efforts to persuade. In the first minutes of the meeting, you have learned new, surprising information, requiring you to ditch the pitch and improvise a persuasive conversation. One of the very first things you need to do is Size Up the Scene.
In my last article I discussed Ditch the Pitch Habit #1: Think Input Before Output. This habit is about listening and observing during a customer conversation. As you listen and observe, you will learn things about your customer and about her situation. This is the essence of Ditch the Pitch Habit #2: Size Up the Scene.
Every time you greet a customer, you are walking into the middle of a situation your customer is living. In order to create an improvised persuasive conversation, you need to assess what that situation is. Here are a few key practices to help you do that.
Practice: Know who you are with
When two improvisational actors start a scene, with no script or prior planning to rely on, they focus on establishing their characters before they start developing a plot. Character, and the relationship between characters, is at the heart of every story, so it is impossible to create an effective story if you don’t know who the players are.
The same holds true when you are with a customer. Before you can start selling and persuading, you need know who the person is. This is true even with a customer you have known for a long time; you may be able to learn important new things about the person’s mood, enthusiasm or interests that can inform your persuasive approach.
Focus on who your customer is before you focus on what you want to say.
Practice: Understand the context of your conversation
In addition to learning more about who your customer is, it is important to learn about your customer’s situation. In other words, you want to learn what’s going on.
In a persuasive conversation your ability to improvise increases with each understanding you glean about the situation your customer is in. Here are some examples of things to look for as you try to understand the context of your persuasive conversation with a customer, whether the customer is a sales prospect, a current customer or a work colleague:
- What’s going on in your customer’s business or personal life
- What outside forces are affecting your customer or what kinds of outside forces your customer thinks are affecting him
- How ready is your customer to make a decision or commitment
- How easy it is for your customer to make a decision
- Where your customer’s overall focus is these days
Be patient as you piece together a story of the situation your customer is in, before you start prescribing answers.
Practice: Listen for the game
As you and your customer begin talking, a dynamic will emerge in your conversation. It will take on a particular tone and pace, and you will tacitly agree on a “feel” for the conversation. You will also develop certain shared themes around which your conversation revolves.
Identifying these dynamics is something improvisational actors call “listening for the game.” As they start an improvised scene and establish their characters, they begin to find a “game,” or a set of themes and elements that will, eventually, evolve into a plot.
Effective persuaders have the perceptiveness and patience to identify the “game” in a customer conversation before they commit to a particular course for that conversation.
By using these three practices, knowing who you are with, understanding the context of your conversation, and listening for the game, you will be able to Size Up the Scene effectively, setting yourself up to ditch the pitch and persuade your customer successfully.
Focus on these ideas, and in our next issue we will begin to explore Ditch the Pitch Habits that help us Go With the Flow.