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Building trust through understanding, seek first to understand.
By David Tovey
"Seek first to understand then to be understood."
- Dr Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
When I ask groups I work with what the most common reason is for them or their colleagues losing a sale, the answer is almost always price. When I follow up by asking how they won their best customers, I never get one-word answers. When people explain how they won their best clients, their faces and voices tend to brighten up and they become animated as they enthusiastically share their stories about winning a great client.
- We invested time getting to know them.
- We really understood their requirements.
- We got deep insight into their business and critical success factors.
- There was a good fit, the right chemistry between us.
- Our proposal was right on the button.
- Our presentation was like poetry in motion.
- There was a negotiation about price as you'd expect. We were both happy with what was agreed.
- It was hard work but fun.
When a sale to a potential long-term client is lost it is rarely due to price alone. The main reason that relationships don't blossom is that not enough time and effort is invested in fully understanding clients requirements. If you don't fully understand their requirements then you can't put forward the right proposal, you don't build trust, can't make the best presentation and it is unlikely to be much fun.
The iceberg principle
The iceberg principle is a term use to describe the writing style of Ernest Hemingway the American writer. He learned to write in a surface level way where he omitted or hinted at the real point of a story. Hemingway believed that the true meaning of a piece of writing should not be evident at the surface level because the crux of a story lies below the surface. Sometimes known as the theory of omission it provided him with a very distinctive but often frustrating style of writing.
When people begin a new relationship they tend to share information that is in the same style as Hemingway - they give their surface level story, only sharing the full picture with those close to them or people they trust.
You don't have to be a ships captain to know that an iceberg is only around 10% above the water with 90% lying under the surface. For a ship it is the 90% that the Captain doesn't see that is the dangerous part. The iceberg principle also applies to business relationships. Most prospects have their stories of omission - the information about themselves and their business that they share with people they only have surface level relationships with. It isn't an attempt to deceive or catch you out; it is just what normal people do.
The risk is that a relationship is often sunk before it can flourish, not because of lack of understanding about the surface story, the prospects story of omission, but a lack of understanding about the full picture.
To win a dream client you have to be the one who they allow to get beyond their story of omission and who gains the insight that comes from getting below their iceberg.
David Tovey is Development Director of Sterling Growth Hub, an international speaker, consultants, coach and author.