Salespeople Should Never Answer This Question

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Politicians typically are not great examples for us. But the one area where skilled politicians continually impress me is in their ability to deftly answer a different question than the one they’re asked. In many cases, it’s not that they are avoiding the question, but that they are intentionally focused on communicating a particular message to the their target audience. And delivering an on-target, compelling, constituent (client/prospect)-focused message is something that sellers must become very effective at doing!

In sales, quite often we are asked a seemingly very innocent question that I strongly recommend we never answer – or at least not answer it the way it was asked. It’s pretty common for someone to ask us any variation of this question:

“What do you do?”   or   “What is it that your company does?

Sure, it’s an innocent question and I have no doubt that the asker is sincere in his/her desire to hear the answer. The problem, and it’s a huge one, is that if you provide the answer to any variation of that question, you will undoubtedly end up talking about what it is that you or your company do. And the harsh reality is that buyers don’t give a flip about what we do; what they really want to know is what we can do for them. Let me say that again with a slightly different twist: From the customer’s perspective, it does not matter what we do. They could not care less about our “offerings” (products & services). They want to know what we (our solutions) will achieve for them. Subtle? Yes, very. But very significant in how it plays out.

As I detail throughout much of New Sales. Simplified. and many of my articles, the power in your Sales Story comes from articulating a succinct, crisp, compelling list of issues we address for customers/clients. Therefore, we want to put those issues… the problems we solve, the pains we remove, the better results we produce – the outcomes we help clients achieve – front and center when communicating. The challenge is that it’s not natural to talk or write that way. Just look at the questions we get asked:  What do you do?  Tell me about your business. What is it that your company does?  Those questions, while innocent, are a trap that leads us down the path of providing a boring, self-focused, and likely non-compelling answer.

Think about it. If I start my communication with a potential client by telling them what I do , it would sound something like this:  “I’m a consultant, speaker and author; I lead workshops, consult senior executives, coach salespeople, and have a few bestselling books.” Ugh. Boring. Self-focused. Who cares?

I’m sure as you read my example you began naturally swapping out my sales consultant/speaker words and plugging in your (software/distributor/manufacturer/company) words that express what it is that you or your company does.  Even if your statement is brief, crisp, and clear, it is still not compelling or attractive to a prospect because it’s focused on what you do, not what you do for clients!

So what if instead of answering the question we are so often asked, (or when we start to describe our business/solution to prospects) we instead started with this simple phrase:

“[Customer Type] turn/look to [me/us/company name] when…

That transitional phrase is what I call the bridge line. It forces us to bridge into a list of the issues we address for clients and it prevents us from spouting off about our offerings. I am asking you to trust me on this and try it for yourself. Plug in either the type of customer or the type of position in the beginning of the phrase. Here are a few examples to get your creative “sales story” juices flowing:

  • Manufacturers look to XYZ Widget when…
  • CFOs turn to Abracadabra Software when…
  • Senior executives look to us when…
  • Dental offices turn to ABC Supply when….
  • Sales leaders bring me in when looking to….

Here’s the magic and my promise: The magic of the bridge line is that it stops you from offering up a boring list of your offerings and headed down a self-focused path describing what you do. And my promise (that comes with 100% money-back guarantee) is that if you start your answer (sales story) with some version of that bridge line, whatever you say or write next will be good!

So when asked what you do, instead of being lazy and simply spouting a list of your activities and offerings, provide a shrewd, powerful, customer-issues-addressed (outcomes) focused answer.

If you want to see a quick example of how I answer that question and how I deploy my own “story,” there are two examples of using that bridge line at the top of the Engage Mike page on my site.  I am so committed to not leading with offerings, that even when someone clicks to see the page listing my services, I make them first read the issues I address (outcomes I produce) for clients. And that, my fellow sellers, is exactly how I would encourage you to begin your “sales story” or respond to someone inquiring about what you or your company do.


Random Reflections Following a Crazy Week

In the last nine business days, I was on eleven airplanes and led sessions for an executive team, group of sales managers, a sales team, association members attending an annual conference, and a group of CEOs. On the personal front, my son’s car broke down 187 miles from home, we had a giant tree catch fire during a storm which led to a fun hour hanging out with the local fire department, a friend was in the hospital with a mystery illness, and I flew to Minneapolis to attend another friend’s mother’s memorial service. Aside from being worn out, here are some of my keenest (non-sales) observations from the past week:

  • American Airlines is awful. Still. And last week they reminded my why Southwest Airlines is my Sales Force One. Not only did American show no hustle or urgency at turning a plane that came in late, when we arrived in Phoenix 45 minutes late with very limited time for dozens of us to make connecting flights, we sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes waiting for a gate (even though we could see four open gates out the window). Once we pulled in, it took a painfully long time for an agent to pull out the jet bridge before he came on board and welcoming us to Phoenix boldly announcing that we all missed our connecting flights. Thankfully, while sitting in the American plane during the delay, using the Southwest iPhone app, I booked a backup ticket to get me to my destination from Phoenix that evening.
  • After years of searching for a good dry-cleaner and suffering from poor service and results, I found Pleats a couple years ago. Everything about Pleats is outstanding… their system of barcoding clothes, no paper tickets, easy pay, and the way dress shirts come back! Last week, they were installing an all-new system because the owner wanted to improve operations and provide an even better customer experience. What a lesson for us! If it’s not broken, break it and make it even better to delight customers and squash competition. Pleats is the antithesis of American Airlines. Just saying.
  • I spoke for a client’s annual meeting at the Live Aqua resort in Cancun. By bizarre unrelated coincidence, it was the second company this year that had me speak at Live Aqua. Two thumbs-up for this place! Beautiful views, great facility, wonderful staff, and the best food I’ve experienced at this type of all-inclusive resort. If you’re looking for a getaway spot, check it out. Speaking of sales meetings, in my next post, I am going  tackle sales team meetings, provide some tips for transforming yours, and also tell you about a client of mine that might be able to supercharge your team meetings or next company outing.
  • Brad Stevens can flat out coach. Sure, I’m biased because I am a Butler fanboy, but what a job he did with the Celtics. Congrats on a great season and all the well-deserved acclaim he gets.
  • Always go to the funeral. A spiritual mentor drilled that into me years ago, and he was right. The highlight of this wild end to May was attending my dear friend Rob’s mother’s memorial service in Minnesota. Each of the children and grandchildren spoke and it was the most beautiful picture of what a life lived well looks like. Faith. Family. Healthy relationships. Grace. Love. Laughter. Encouragement. In the midst a world full of so much brokenness and pain and fear, what a treat to celebrate the life of this wonderful woman who left an indelible mark on those around her.

Peace to our friends in the United Kingdom as you mourn the loss of so many young people from the tragedy at the concert in Manchester. And a wonderful long Memorial Day weekend to everyone here in the States. Let’s pause to remember those who sacrificed all to provide us with this incredible freedom we enjoy.

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