Conversations With Prospects: Practice, Review, Share Notes, Ask for Feedback

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, skmurphy

“Empathy isn’t dictated to us by a focus group or a statistical analysis. Empathy is the powerful (and rare) ability to imagine what motivates someone else to act. [...] What is required is a persistent effort to understand how other people see the world, and to care about it.”
Seth Godin in “If I Were You

Engineers and scientists tend to have more  of an affinity for technology than people and can find the conversations with prospects and early customers particularly challenging. Face to face conversations and phone conversations unfold in real time and require that you manage a number of things in parallel:

  • actively listening to not just what’s said but the tone and emphasis
  • considering the implications (especially for what is not said)
  • developing and prioritizing follow on questions
  • considering what additional informational from your own perspective to provide, in particular to establish a common context
  • managing your own emotions so that your tone is consistent and allows your words to be heard (for example when a prospect calls your baby ugly).

In  a face to face conversation you also must manage:

  • paying attention to the other participants facial expressions and body language
  • managing your own facial expressions and body language

All of the subtleties of tone and body language mean that an audio recording captures perhaps 30-50% of what’s being said and a transcript perhaps 10-20%. This means that a webinar filters a lot of what you can learn from a prospect and reading a transcript is less useful than reading a participant’s written summary of their impressions and key statements from the conversation.

The goal of these conversations is not only to learn more about a particular prospect’s needs (and therefore more about what niche market requirements are) but also to establish trust so that you can have additional conversations spanning e-mail, phone, and face to face interactions. And in some cases the goal evolves to a financial transaction where they pay for a product or service. So it’s not only exchanging information and perspectives but establishing trust and credibility that can support an ongoing business relationship.

At a deeper level the ability to have a serious conversation looks like a lot like riding a bike, you have to integrate several simultaneous activities into a mindful whole. Sustaining a serious conversation requires not only self-awareness and the ability to manage your own transient emotional reactions to their statements or reactions, but empathy for nuances of the other person’s responses (verbal and non-verbal).

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Viktor E. Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning”

We help entrepreneurs anticipate, mitigate, and recover from communication mismatches with prospects, customers, and partners. These communication challenges are common, especially in the early part of a new relationship. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to get better and minimize the chances for a problem:

  • Practice an opening statement or an answer to a commonly asked question so that it flows naturally. Record and listen to yourself. Video tape yourself to gain insights into when you body language and facial language may be working against a point you are trying to make or may discourage the other person from elaborating.
  • Review e-mails and presentations with others who are a reasonable proxy for your audience. Read e-mails aloud so that you make sure you have captured a conversational style. Record live talks and presentations in audio or video to be able to assess where you need to improve.
  • Take notes in public: type key comments a prospect or customer says into the chat window in a webinar to let them know that you are listening. Do the same in a skype call. Provide an e-mail summary of a conversation or phone call to communicate what you heard, also include what you felt were the key points you made but start with the other person’s key points first. They will often amend or extend their remarks and minimize the risk of a misunderstanding.
  • Ask for feedback: ask a prospect in a follow up communication what was the most useful thing they heard, the least useful, the most surprising, and anything that you failed to do that they expected you to do.

Many sales opportunities fail to progress because there is a mismatch between the communication style and content that a prospect needs or prefers, not just to understand your offering but23 to believe that you can deliver and to act on particular proposal. Please contact us if you find it difficult to get conversations started or sustained with prospects or you feel that your current approach could be more effective. We can assist in several ways:

  • de-brief on existing calls or presentations
  • help you to rehearse. provide specific actionable suggestions for how to improve
  • review current e-mails, forum postings,  and other communication with an eye toward improving and creating a common set of templates so that  a consistent tone can be maintained
  • interview current customers and former prospects to determine areas for improvement and opportunities for case studies and testimonials, additional content that can make it easier to initiate or sustain a conversation as well as shorten the time a prospect needs to make a decision about your offering.

See also http://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2009/02/14/the-limits-of-customer-relationship-management-systems/

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