April 27, 2011

On The Same Wavelength

Over the years, I've flirted with the idea of developing a sales process for Islandbridge, but have been reluctant to commit over concerns that selling in a systematic way would somehow make for an artificial exchange with prospective customers.

More recently, our work with Ronan Kilroy of Focalpoint has seen us finally embrace the requirement to plan, prepare and rehearse for sales meetings to great effect, but I still struggle at times to shake off the sense that such an approach is somehow wooden or insincere.

Ronan often talks of the need to gauge and mirror your prospect's communication style - to be animated if they're lively, slow and deliberate if they're inclined to be unhurried and thoughtful and so on - and this 'mirror' approach has always struck me as contrived, almost disrespectful. Isn't it more important to bring your own natural approach to any conversation rather than parody the style of your companion?

But of course, that's not what Ronan means.

Listening to him speak again on the topic at a Venture Network event on Friday, I suddenly understood how it works. I pride myself on my own lively approach to discussion and, as I thought about how that would go down in different scenarios, a picture flashed into my mind of a good friend who's just received bad news and is struggling to absorb it. Normally, he and I are well-matched sparring partners and our exchanges are full of banter and playful insults. Of course, I wouldn't rush up to him with my usual gusto, given his current distress; instead, I'd temper my enthusiasm and adapt to his mood and style in order to be able to relate better to him in his difficulty.

And it's the same in business. If we see ourselves as problem-solvers and are genuinely interested in helping our customers fix their problems, then we must adapt to them and how they see the world. There's no parody in this, only respect.

If we insist on our own usual style, there's a very real danger that we seem insincere and interested only in our own point of view. When we get on the same wavelength as our customer, however, we're far more likely to strike the right pitch and get to a real understanding of whether what we've got to offer is a good fit for what they want.

Over To You: What do you think of mirroring your customer (and other approaches to building rapport and winning new business)?