Why I want to tell you what to do, but I won’t, even if I know better

We’ve all been there: how many times do we want to tell our clients what to do?

After only a few sentences uttered by them we, of course, know immediately what their issue is. We’ve seen it tens or hundreds of times before. It seems so obvious to us what they should do.

“If only they would just do this … it would be so much better/save them so much time/get them there faster/ make them safer,” I hear you cry.

Welcome to the world of domain expertise, where you (potentially) know a lot more about something than someone else does. It can be very frustrating to sit by listening patiently waiting for them to finish before you to tell someone what they should do.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if people would just accept our knowledge and expertise and see how useful and valuable we are to them?

Wouldn’t it make selling so much easier and faster?

It doesn’t work that way

But that is not how selling, persuasion and influence works.

That is not how we help people make informed decisions to buy.

This is not how people like to be treated.

People come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to domain knowledge and expertise. Some people genuinely know as much as we do about our area of expertise, while others are down the other end of the spectrum and don’t have a clue, and others are somewhere in the middle. Then there are all the other factors that could be affecting them, which could change the nature of the solutions and recommendations we offer.

Let’s face it, we could still sell the same solution 99 times out of 100 but the way it is perceived and received by others is the key here. That is why I wouldn’t tell you what to do until I have really understood your situation, warts and all.

People like to make up their own minds. They like to know that they are in control of their decisions. They like to own their decisions.

People can and will do all sorts of things to avoid being dominated or told what to do if they have no say in it. Like smile nicely at you and nod their heads as if they are in agreement but never get back to you, for instance.

How many times, as customers, have we decided not to go back to a salesperson or company because they told us what to do without much consultation? You know what I mean.

What to do instead

So whether you do know more than your clients or not, here are some tips to help your clients want to buy from you and for you to not miss any hidden opportunities that may be lurking beneath the surface:

1. Provide context. Make sure any client meeting starts off with an agreed context — this gives focus and purpose;

2. Ask questions. Your questions need to be in relation to the client’s priorities and in context of the meeting objective; get all the information your client is prepared to share with you. Remember, don’t just stop at the first thing you can solve — keep asking until there is nothing left to share from the client’s perspective;

3. Actively listen. Making sure you listen free from judgemental thoughts and take notes to ensure you have captured what your client really wants to achieve;

4. Paraphrase. Read back what you understand about your client’s situation to be in agreement; check if you missed anything;

5. Enter solution mode. Now you can go into solution mode, sharing your ideas and recommendations with the client about how you can help them; get their feedback about your ideas and recommendations; find the one that is resonating most with them; and

6. Close. Now you are in a position to recommend and close out the deal. 

Yes, you may still be selling the same solution time and time again but the client has now bought what you have recommended in context of their situation and priorities.

Yes, we could have told them what to do, but isn’t it better that they tell you what they want to do with you?

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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