It seems that it was 100 years ago when I learned these things but in reality it was only a quarter of a century ago. I was 18 and I was in sales. I had a mentor Russ, who was part of a dynamic business group that took an interest in developing young people to their full potential. He spent many hours training me on the small, subtle responses that a prospect reflects and that I would not have noticed without his guidance.The World According To Russ Baldwin
As far as I know Russ never wrote a book, but Russ read many books. He was an ongoing wealth of resources always challenging me to read another biography, another self-help book, another book about business. He instilled in me a love of reading and for the kind of reading that would make a difference in my life. He asked about what I was reading. He had me stand in front of groups of people and promote the latest good book. He showed me how to find bite-sized nuggets of wisdom which now in this age of information overload has become a defining skill for increasing knowledge.Russ taught me that “readers are leaders.” I completely bought into that and it has become a mantra of my own. I have to this day fed my own education and sought out the information that I needed to become credible with my peers and in industries and businesses where I did not have formal training. Russ showed me that I would set my own fate by the information that I fed my brain and that if I succeeded in leadership it would be because I had become something worthy of being followed.
The One Who Asks The Questions Is In ChargeCritical thinking is a good skill to have but thinking on one’s feet is often what keeps us in the lead. Have you ever been part of a conversation where you were trying to lead someone’s decision and they stumped you with a question? In sales we call these objections, and the unseasoned salesperson can become discouraged by a question that disarms them. The reality is however, that a question shows interest and it is even the first step in the buying process. How you answer the question is what determines if you are a professional or a novice.
A professional is never threatened by a question. It is a good sign to get a question. However, the expert realizes that he who asks the questions is in charge. This person has just taken ownership of the conversation and you are now in the position where you must defend with an answer. But do you defend? Have you tried that? How did that work out? Usually becoming defensive just causes a greater loss of control of the conversation. So a better response is always to ask another question and to regain control of the conversation.I was in a presentation where a young leader was describing the advantages of doing business with his company. He did a good job. His powerpoint was well done. Everything looked good until he made the mistake of opening up the floor for questions. It was an open invitation for disaster and I cringed in anticipation even before the inevitable stream of negative began. He was going to allow and even encourage questions that would redirect the conversation away from the answers he was alluding to.
The first question came from a poverty-minded, negative, domineering person who immediately took control of the conversation and the room. She put him on the spot with a question that could be easily answered and in fact it should have been answered before he even allowed questions. So mistake number 1 was not answering the obvious objections that were sure to come. Mistake number 2 was letting her go on and on, and mistake number 3 was answering that drivel instead of asking a question in return. In fact, one simple question that interrupted her early in her diatribe would have ended the debate. He should have politely stopped her in a pause and asked just one question. He could have said, “That is a really good question, may I ask what you do for a living?”In this case that would have been the perfect question because not only would any question take control back this particular person was unemployed and that would have immediately showed the room full of business people that this was not a credible person and by association then the question is not a credible question. Then any answer he may give to the question is simply out of being gracious and offered in a good spirited way of encouraging her and others who may have the same question.
While that may have been a great question for this situation, any question would work. Asking a question shows interest. It allows for positive interaction. It redirects any animosity and changes the course of the conversation. It flushes chunks of negative away. It puts the speaker back in charge of the room.Out On A Sales Call
When I was out on sales calls with Russ back in my early twenties he showed me how to arrange the seating when sitting with a couple. They should be side by side so they are close and comfortable with the sales person across the table. If the salesperson is in the middle between them, then they are able to send each other negative signals and read each other’s body language in a way that is a detriment to the sale. She sees him cross his arms and perceives he is uncomfortable so she responds by showing disinterest. Or he sees her looking tense or rolling her eyes so he decides he is not interested before hearing any of the facts. If they are side by side they are both looking forward and making their judgements based on the presentation and on the subject matter that they are learning about. They can ask questions as they come up but they are real and legitimate questions out of sincere curiosity instead of out of manipulation by how they think their partner might be feeling.
Know what you can control and what you cannot. There are so many things you cannot control. You can’t control the dog that is barking. You can’t control the mother-in-law from dropping by. You can’t control the triggers that they have in their life from some past trauma or even another salesperson. You can control the number of people that you talk to, and you can determine how many you need to see to make your goals. Once you know that number you are free to be yourself, build relationships and bring value to your potential customers. You can control yourself. You make a decision to become a better you and control your growth and your expertise. You control your own learning to become a better salesperson. That is what truly allows you to control the sale!