Micah
Credit: Courtesy of Brian Cross/Cruzin Canines Photography

Born in April 2009, Micah is a timber wolf who lives at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center

What wolves can teach us about misconceptions

I recently had the opportunity to debunk a few myths about wolves. I visited the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center and came face-to-face with some misconceptions. Our culture is permeated with tales of the Big Bad Wolf, leading to widespread hunting of these animals to the point of endangerment. The reality is that people have nothing to fear from wolves. My experience with Micah got me thinking about how we in sales sometimes constrain ourselves with limiting beliefs, or myths.

Myth 1. Expertise is the source of our credibility

Most of us are all too eager to demonstrate our product and business knowledge and quickly take control of a customer interaction to demonstrate expertise. We believe this will help our clients trust and buy from us. However, as Amy Cuddy finds in her recent book Presence, competence is only part of what compels trust. And it’s the lesser part!

Before clients consider our competence or expertise, there’s something else they’re looking for: they’re looking for warmth. Are we real? Are we authentic? Unfortunately, the more we hammer our amazing expertise, the less authentic we appear.

Micah reminded me of this. While heavily socialized, he’s very much a wild animal, and I was entering his turf. Whether he would give me any attention was entirely up to him. What made all the difference for Micah and me was my effort to engage with him on his terms. I didn’t try to show him my alpha experience. I met him at his level (literally), and the reward was something I’ll never forget.

I spoke the other day with an account management team from a leading mortgage technology firm, and they approached a recent client meeting in a similar fashion. They went in without an agenda except to talk with the customer about their business. The client responded by openly sharing information about two key initiatives that led to new opportunities. The team reported their delight in what felt like a “natural” and “authentic” meeting and were eager to experiment with more clients.

Give less weight to expertise in your next meeting and see happens. Your clients will respond, just like Micah did.

Myth 2. The customer is always right

Today our customers are much further along in their buying decision by the time we talk to them. This makes our job a lot harder because, thanks to many online resources, customers are much better informed and often have their eyes on a specific solution. But that doesn’t make them right, no matter how sophisticated a buyer they are.

If we slip into order-taking mode, we end up in commodity-ville, talking about a limited solution that can be easily compared to the competition. However, if we press for more discovery, we’re almost certain to find that the client’s definition of the problem is limited, or even incorrect. To the extent we can reframe the customer’s certainty and fixation, we graduate from “problem-solver”—just like every other vendor who calls on them—to the more coveted and differentiated “problem finder” role.

Myth 3. Big data will save us

The benefits of Big Data are all around us. AI and predictive analytics are already being used to make our lives easier. After clicking only once on an ad for online bedding retailer Brooklinen, they showed up on every site I frequent, making it easy to build a relationship, and, yes, place an order.

Many of our clients are likewise experimenting with this technology to identify leads. While this functionality is fantastic, we see it leading too often to limited engagements. Sales people are over-relying on data to close ready-made deals. In a fashion, they’re combining this myth with the previous two: they leverage data to quickly demonstrate their expertise in the specified areas and make a wrong assumption about the customer’s problem. The promise of big data is real, but only insofar as it’s used to enable greater problem finding—not quicker problem solving and selling.

Myth 4. Focusing on numbers will drive revenue

This last myth is pervasive among both sales people and their managers. I understand the power of the maxim "What gets measured gets done." But we’ve taken this to an extreme such that sales managers and their teams spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional calories reporting on their pipelines.

The unintended consequence: sales becomes dumbed down into a revenue drone. It’s no longer about our customers and the interesting things they’re doing with their businesses and how we can help them. It’s about delivering our numbers—or at least paying lip service to doing so.

The remedy for sales managers is as simple as asking your teams about the interesting things they’re seeing in their accounts. What’s something new they’ve learned from a customer? Which accounts are they feeling excited about and why? You’ll have a much clearer picture about progress in each account, and you’ll open up your conversations toward what really matters: how your business can help your clients solve their problems.

It’s time to throw these myths to the wolves. When, instead, sales people focus on authentic connection and active problem-finding, they’re at their very best. Let Big Data point you in a direction, but remember it’s just a starting point. And finally, turn your forecasting games into conversations about your customers. We’ve seen these myth-busting moves turn into seven-figure deals.

Ashley Welch and Justin Jones co-founded Somersault Innovation, a Design Thinking consulting firm providing a unique approach to sales development. They are the authors of  Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue