Find Your Customer’s Path

On Steve's Mind: a Newsletter

Years ago, I agreed to meet with an insurance salesman. As soon as we started our meeting, he pulled out his “pitch book” and proceeded to walk me through this book from start to finish. Much of what he had to say was uninteresting to me. I got bored and a bit distracted, and by the time he got to the items that might have been more interesting, he had lost my attention. His problem: He decided the path our conversation would take before he arrived at the meeting.

Sales pitches are designed to have a logical chronology, starting at the beginning and proceeding from there as you “go for the close.” On the contrary, when you ditch the pitch, your persuasive conversations usually start in the middle.

Starting in the middle of a conversation is actually pretty natural. Most of the conversations you have in your personal life start in the middle. You run into a friend on the street and you start talking and catching up with each other, not necessarily proceeding in a strict chronological or logical order. Your friend tells you that things aren’t going very well in his job, telling you about a clash he had with his boss earlier today, and only later filling you in on the root causes of the clash that had been brewing for months. It would seem totally unnatural if he insisted on starting at the very beginning, imparting a step-by-step version of events to you.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar told me about one of the most important types of conversations she has in her job: meeting with a family prior to a funeral. “People don’t know where to start, so I tell them, ‘start in the middle.’ Then, I begin to look for the thread that connects together the life of the loved one who has died. It is not important what order they tell me stories in. In fact, if I were to force them into an order, it’s likely that I wouldn’t ever hear the real story. People want to take a random walk through their issues, so I let them. I give them permission to talk.”

Let’s explore what these examples can teach us about your conversations with customers.

Starting in the middle makes things much easier for you when you are communicating with a customer. You don’t need to know what the ultimate story is, or what you will say next. You only need to start the conversation on whatever path your customer wants to take, and go from there. At the beginning of a conversation, it is more important that you’re actually conversing than what you are conversing about.

The idea of finding your customer’s path is similar to the way a flock of birds takes off from the ground as it starts a southward migration. Although the ultimate destination is south, the flock may first take off to the northwest, falling into formation and turning south only after all the birds are in sync with each other. You should use the start of a conversation to get you and your customer in sync, not worrying whether you are communicating a perfect story, beginning to end. Find the path that is most comfortable for your customer, and it will be easier to move towards your desired destination.

To understand how important this concept is to ditching the pitch, think about how you feel when someone tries to force you down his conversation path. You may feel pressured or coerced to talk about what he wants to talk about, or frustrated that he’s not really listening to you. If he’s trying to sell you something, it’s unlikely that you will willingly and enthusiastically buy from him.

Here’s why it is helpful to find your customer’s path:

  • It’s easier to get a customer engaged and comfortable in a conversation if you follow his path.
  • Once your customer is engaged, it’s easier to navigate a conversation to where you want it to go.
  • A customer is more likely to listen to you if he doesn’t feel pressured to talk about what you want to talk about.
  • A customer will be more likely to share important information with you if he is comfortable in a conversation with you.

Find your customer’s conversation path. Ironically, it’s one of the most effective ways to bring a persuasive conversation to where you want it to be.

Steve Yastrow

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