I participate in lots of sales calls. Sometimes observing what’s going on, sometimes as a contributor. Most of the time, they seem like “verbal ping pong.”
Someone asks a question or makes a statement (seller or customer), the other responds. Back and forth, sometimes agreeing, sometimes objecting, all practiced, mindless responses–back and forth. And every once in a while, someone tries to win by the verbal equivalent of “slamming the ball,” defeating the other, but no one has really won.
And these progress through the customer buying process. Call after call, meeting after meeting.
But every once in a while, there is a spark, something happens, capturing the imaginations of everyone involved. Its the moment, as Jack Malcolm labeled it, “….when an undiscovered need meets an unexplored possibility, creating an unexpected spark of creation…”
At that moment, the conversation changes, the energy level and engagement in the meeting skyrockets. The pace of the conversation accelerates, each person building on the ideas and contributions of the others. New ideas are developed, things we have never considered or thought of before, new possibilities are realized. The conversation is no longer a game of verbal ping pong, but a moment of collaborative creativity. It’s a moment where each person connects with the others, making giant steps forward in achieving their shared goals. We reach a point we could not have reached individually, but only through our shared ideas.
Probably, each of us has experienced those magical moments before. But I believe those moments don’t happen only through chance, but that we can recreate them very consistently.
First, these conversations can’t exist without a strong foundation of trust. If our customers don’t trust us, if we don’t trust them, we can’t open up.
Second, there has to be open mindedness. We each must be prepared to learn—-No we must have the goal to learn, perhaps to change our point of view, to contribute and grow.
We have to enter the discussion with the goal of coming up with something–maybe a spark of realization or possibility or an “Aha” moment–that we, individually could not create. And this probably demands vulnerability on each person’s part. “I’d never thought of that before; I didn’t realize that might be possible; what if……”
To maximize the possibility of these moments happen, each participant needs to be prepared. What do I want to learn? What do I think I can contribute to other’s learning? What might they be most worried about, what are we most worried about? What role can I play in helping to discover new possibility?
As we conduct the conversation, we must adopt the principles of improv. Every response has to be “Yes, and….” building on the ideas of the others, and subsequent responses have to be built on the same “Yes, and….” principle. We should seek opportunities to be surprised. to want to learn more to explore the issues more deeply, and to progress together.
I don’t know that I have mastered these conversations, but I know at least 50% of the meetings I have are collaboratively creative. I walk out of each conversation, having learned something new, gotten a new perspective, and discovered something exciting that compels us to move forward–possibly just for the sheer adrenaline rush one gets from these conversations.
Collaborative creativity is something we can design and execute with our customers in every interaction. We should expect nothing less for ourselves or them.
Afterword: A lot of this post was incited by a conversation Jack Malcolm and I had. It seems, each conversation we have is one of collaborative creativity. He wrote an outstanding post on this topic, Synergistic Surprise In Sales Calls.