Ditch the Pitch Habit #6: Don’t Rush the Story

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Imagine this scene: A salesperson listens patiently as his prospective customer describes her situation. Being the quick study that he is, the salesperson figures out a perfect solution for this customer in the first two minutes after the customer starts talking. The next few minutes reinforce the salesperson’s ideas, and he is getting very excited to tell his customer about his solution.

Finally, after about five minutes, the salesperson can wait no longer. With enthusiasm and confidence, he lays out a complete, perfect plan for the customer to address every one of her problems. He describes his company’s capabilities, creating a very solid, reasoned, rational argument about how these capabilities are perfectly suited to the customer’s issues.

When he finishes talking, he looks to the customer expecting approval for coming up with such a brilliant solution in so little time. But, instead of applauding, the customer says, “I don’t know. That sounds like an awful lot.”

You know your products and services well. Because of this, when you are talking with a customer, it’s inevitable that you will quickly come up with ideas for helping that customer. It’s tempting to tell your customer these ideas as you come up with them, but is your customer ready to hear your ideas as quickly as you create them?

Probably not. And you won’t get credit for your amazing ideas if your customer isn’t ready to hear them.

Ditch the Pitch Habit #6, Don’t rush the story, recognizes that a persuasive conversation is a process, not a presentation. When you ditch the pitch, you let the story of your conversation emerge gradually, at a pace that is comfortable for your customer.

This is difficult for many salespeople giving a sales pitch, for whom the temptation is to say too much, too soon. A salesperson needs to avoid what Rich Sheridan, Sales Vice-President for salesforce.com calls “premature elaboration.” Don’t force a story before its time. Instead, let it develop naturally, through the dialogue you and your customer share.
This really isn’t difficult, as long as you are patient, unlike the salesperson in the story at the beginning of this article. If you pay attention to the emerging story at each point in its development, and also pay attention to your customer’s reaction, you will know when it is time to introduce new information. Trust yourself. Don’t rush the story.

Here are three practices you can employ to help you avoid rushing the story in a customer conversation.

Practice: Don’t load the slingshot

Imagine a young boy playing with his slingshot, loading as many rocks as he can into the elastic band, and letting the rocks all fly towards his target, all at one time. Metaphorically, this is exactly what the salesperson in the story at the beginning of this article did.

Don’t load the slingshot. Don’t let all your ideas fly at your customer at one time.

Practice: Leave things in your pocket

You don’t need to tell your customer everything. You only need to tell your customer enough to move your relationships forward and, eventually, to encourage your customer to say, “yes.”

Have the discipline not to tell your customer everything, because too much information, or the wrong information, can cloud her ability to make a decision. If sharing certain ideas is not critical to persuading your customer, leave those ideas in your pocket, unseen and unheard by your customer.

Practice: Create callbacks

Comedy writers have certain secrets for drawing you into a story. One of those secrets is a “callback,” which happens when a theme returns a number of times as a story develops. Your job in a persuasive conversation is not to get laughs, as it is with comedy, but to draw someone into the story that you are creating. When you bring back themes, especially if they are based on things a customer has told you, you will create interest for your customer and add continuity and coherence to the emerging story. This will help your customer understand why she should say yes to you.

Don’t force a story before its time. Let the story develop at a pace your customer can accept. If you do this, you’ll find that it is much more likely that your customer will also accept what you are trying to sell.

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Posted in Ditch the Pitch, Newsletters, Sales

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