customer series: don’t show uncertain cards

Reminder: when I use the word customer, particularly in this series, I’m pretty much referring to everbody! As in, not just a buyer in the strict sense.

When you want to sell a customer, it’s one thing to contemplate the points that the customer will like. It’s another to consider everything you see as strengths in your own mind. I’ve already established earlier, that while its great to be confident in the whole menu of strengths of your offering, you want to push the things the customer is most likely to consider positive.

The further point I want to make here is to consider what lies in the unknown. The things you’re not sure the customer would like. Hold those cards close to your chest! They are avoidable land mines.

Imagine a situation where you are selling a piece of land. Let’s say you know a neighbor landowner is considering putting up a building. Let’s say you know this will actually increase the value of all the land in the area…perhaps that building is going to be occupied by a prestigious tenant that will strengthen the market. If you’re absolutely sure the prospective buyer would consider this good news, you might emphasize this as a selling point. However, what if you’re not sure? What if there is a reason this would turn off the buyer?

Let’s say in our theoretical example, 9 out of 10 land buyers would see the neighbor project as a good thing. As a seller, let’s say you yourself had even considered postponing the sale to wait for the land appreciation from the project fruition before opting to move forward marketing your land. Watch out for the tricks of your mind! Don’t let these facts lull you into assuming the buyer is going to think it’s a good thing. You need to focus on the specific buyer. Don’t assume, unless you do so knowing you’re taking that leap of faith at your own peril.

Maybe my example isn’t the best. I don’t sell land; I was just shooting for something as generic as possible. The point is to watch what you disclose — even if you think something is a positive…and even if you think “most people” would think it is a positive. Remember, all that matters is the customer’s judgment.

In our example, it seems the best thing to do would be to ask prompting questions to the buyer to assess whether the news would be interpreted as a positive.

It’s a funny thing: we tend to be great at asking probing questions around revealing what we think might be a negative to see how careful we need to be. Assumed but uncertain positives should be handled with the same frame of mind.

The classic example is productivity software that eliminates overhead. Often someone in the customer chain has a clear motivation to see that your software NOT be purchased for it’s “obviously” positive productivity gains. What if that software could end up eliminating 25% of a manager’s headcount and budget?

Tread lightly.

For my last point I’m going to get a little abstract. This has to do with your future plans. If you need agreement from someone to take a step forward, you need to disclose enough to get that agreement. In achieving this, we often spill too much of the longer term plans we have. This undermines the goal, which is the agreement. Why? All this spilling just invites the other person to see a problem in the logic of your longer term plans. What’s the benefit? Even if there’s no conflict of interest in the longer term, you’re just inviting disagreement which is tertiary to the immediate goal at hand. Why are you inviting cold feet? I’m not suggesting to be tight-lipped all the time and invite suspicion. I’m suggesting being pragmatic in disclosure. If anything, let the other person’s imagination go to work on the longer term. Let them paint the picture most positive in their own eyes. There’s no way your “wonderful” picture can compete with the product of the other person’s own mind!

If you have trouble with the above (I know I do), try this exercise. Imagine the worst. Force yourself to think as if the other person will NOT like your assumed positives. This builds up your radar in a three ways. One, you leave all the tertiary spilling OUT. Two, you are more focused on figuring out what the customer will consider a positive — before disclosure. Three, by being your own critic, you might identify negatives you’d previously glossed over in your mind.

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