Last Updated Sep 6, 2011 5:11 PM EDT
I'm 6 years old riding in the car with my mom, looking for a parking spot at the grocery store when a healthy 20-something-year-old guy pulls right in front of us into a handicapped slot. Sure enough, mom was right -- the guy looks around and then does his best jump-and-shuffle limp to the door in front of a dozen cars looking for available spots. Later in the store, I see him walking like a champ without a problem. How'd she know? I decided that it was because she was psychic... and I wanted to figure out how to be psychic too.
I've seen her predict marriages, divorces, results of meetings with faculty, global crises, election upsets, and who will call at the last minute to cancel a dinner party. This is the creepy $%#@ that makes young boys behave better out of fear of discovery, or at least work harder on their alibis when they are planning trouble.
Mom has kept her super-power secrets to herself all these years (I did manage to wrangle the family recipe for Dobache Torte from her though). But I think I have figured out some of her mad skills and how to translate them to business:
1. Observe - My mom has a memory for the pattern of how people think, what words they use, what they gravitate to in conversation, and what they leave out. She notices how often someone comes back to a point or thought. She knows that frequency means focus. Omission indicates a blind spot or secrecy.
As sales people, we need to project ourselves into the minds of buyers, observing and listening for patterns, focus, code words. Here's a quick tip: In your next conversation with a buyer, write down these topic words in the margins of your notes and make a tick mark for each time the buyer uses a reference related to:
- Boss or company leadership
- Being overwhelmed
- Scarcity -- not having enough of any resource
2. Frame - My mom never frames her comments in the context of "If it were me..." because she knows that what she would do in the same circumstance as another person is irrelevant. Predicting what others will do, for example the likelihood they will delay or proceed with a decision, are things you can discern in advance if you frame their behaviors correctly. The first step is thinking like them, not thinking like you pretending to think like them.
Next time you are preparing for a meeting with a prospect, ask these three questions in advance:
- What is the person's greatest fear?
- What has been this person's greatest success?
- What has been this person's biggest professional decision or choice?
3. Go to the person's core - My mom always taught me, "People revert to their base level character under stress or fear." When you are selling to someone, you are challenging him or her. New things are scary, change is stressful. We all know the "fight or flight" response mechanisms. So, how do your buyers respond to new ideas, challenges, and internal resistance from their company to making change? If you look at their history and how they have handled these issues in the past their actions will give you insight as to how they will do things in the future.
4. Find the anomalies - I remember once calling Mom because my boss had asked me out for lunch the next day. I started speculating that maybe I was in trouble, or that I was getting a promotion or that there was an issue with my team. My mom stopped me and said, "Thomas," (why do moms always use your full name?), "It is never about you, it is always about them. What are his problems, his priorities, his challenges -- that's what you are going to talk about -- your involvement is going to be about him, not you." Hmm... I hadn't framed it that way.
Then she asked about what other people may have been in meetings lately, were they open or closed meetings, were there new people in and out of the department in the last few days and a few other questions. Her answer was then, "Well, it's kind of obvious, don't you think? The company is going to re-organize and your role is going to change. He's meeting with you to prepare you for the shift so that you are not surprised, which will make things easier for him." And of course, that was what happened. She's good. Real good.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the expectations. But those exceptions become the refinements to your observations, your framing, and your sense of the anomalous in the future. You can be more accurate in your predictions by using these skills to get into your prospects' minds.
Photo courtesy of Flickr just.Luck cc 2.0