Technical people and those working in professional services are often smart. And they know it. In fact, in my experience working with smarter than average people, there’s often competition over who’s got the biggest ego and who’s the smartest person in the room. (I say the smartest person isn’t in the room, they’re out selling..)
But working with smart people got me interestested in the impact of thinking you’re the smartest on your sales conversations. I was working with one professional service firm when one of the partners there confessed to me that he often suffers from ‘smartest man in the room’ sydrome. Since it was just me and him in the room, my first thought was ‘no offence taken’. Anyway, much to my delight, about two weeks later I was chatting to a colleague of his who said exactly the same thing, ‘Mark, one problem I have is I often think I’m the smartest in the room’. I thought, ‘wow, how many other people working here think the same?’ And of course, this mindset is costly when selling. It could cost you not only the sale, but the whole relationship…
I now ask clients, “when you’re selling, who’s the smartest person in the room?” The actual smartest person in the room should answer, “your client is.” (No one’s ever said that yet). Your client is the smartest person in the room about what currently matters. And what matters is their business, their challenges, their backstory, their desires and their frustrations. They are the smartest person there to know about these things, and how they feel about them. In that situation, the person selling is not yet that smart.
Your job then is to hand the title over to them and you become the learner, the curious one, the empty vessel if you like. Your job is to assume nothing and learn everything that you need to. As the empty vessel fills and you become smarter about your client’s situation, emotional reactions, desires etc and you have confirmed that you’ve got this right you can eventually take the title back as ‘the smart one’ (if you have to..you could also just get over yourself), and begin to plug your expertise and value in to help them. Smarty-pants.
I see technical sales people and professional service people screw this up more often than I see it done well. They tell me that they want to appear the smart one. They tell me that it adds to credibility. They tell me that they feel they should be the one with the answers, not asking questions! But how smart is it really to throw yourself and your client down the wrong path? Not only does it screw this opportunity to help up, it also damages the relationship and erodes trust. Ever sat in front of a doctor who starts prescribing things before diagnosing?
One of the top complaints I hear from buyers who talk to smart sales people and technical sales people is, “THEY JUST DON’T LISTEN TO ME!” This is common, so pay attention. You’ve been warned.
So, there it is. The best sales people full-time, technical or non-sales are learners, listeners, naturally curious and keen to meet the customer where they are at, rather than getting the customer to just shut up and meet us where we are at. That’s not smart, that’s dumb. And they do this in a way that continuously reassures the customer that they’re driving the conversation towards business relevant objectives.
And finally on this, like many of the ideas on this site, just knowing this is unlikely to be enough. These are habitual behaviours and have a lot to do with your own self-identity. You or your team would benefit from ongoing support around these challenges such as sales coaching.
If you would like to discuss this blindspot with me or have any questions, please contact me using the tab on the right.