We have probably all heard the question “Why do we have two ears and one mouth?” and then the obvious answer – “To listen twice as much as we talk”.
The other version, which is a little more of a disciplinary comment, says “Talk less and listen more because you have one mouth and two ears”.
I prefer the former as it points to one of the big challenges that organisations face when they transition from a sell-a-box model to a solution-approach.
Why? Because at the very outset a solution-approach requires that you do less talking and more listening. We probably all know that we should listen more but it’s actually quite a difficult skill to acquire and certainly doesn’t seem to come naturally for most people.
A solution-based approach to a client’s needs also requires that we divorce ourselves from walking into a meeting with a pre-conceived idea of what the client needs. In fact, I would suggest that it goes further than that and that we need to create more than just a bamboo curtain between the solutions arm of the business and the sales process.
If I am looking to provide someone with a solution, I firstly need to have a conversation based on establishing a business need or a problem that needs to be solved and I certainly can’t do this if I am thinking that I have 9 big-box servers sitting in my warehouse and I need to find a home for them before I have to write down their value by the end of this month.
Listening becomes the basis of the interaction and not seeking a sale. Questioning and interpretation follow closely on from this and only after that is there space to begin to think of a sale. This is counterintuitive to the way in which most vendors and channel players approach their customers. We are normally focused on the targets to be met and seldom is it about satisfying a need the client has.
It must be said that the mix between solving a problem and enabling business is pretty even and we need to keep that in mind because the kind of questions that will reveal the difference are subtle but evident.
As much as we are living in a world of constant change, so too is our client.
They are facing challenges on every front and though their two primary means of winning in business – increasing revenue or decreasing costs – are open to them, they often need an outsider’s perspective and a trusted opinion to provide them with a clearer vision of what they need to do next.
Our assumption is that most business leaders are fully au fait with firstly, their own problems and secondly the solutions available to them, but this is patently incorrect. Most business leaders need help and that’s not casting dispersions on their capabilities but a statement on the complex business environment where they battle for survival and growth each and every day.
What’s going on in the head of our client? These could be some of the questions they are asking themselves or the statements they are making:
- I need to do something different
- I need to grow my business
- How do I remain relevant?
- Do I have the right talent to grow the business?
- Where can I make more money?
- Can I drop my costs even further?
Please note that not one of those has anything to do with a piece of tin or software! A business leader is interested in his business and it is possible that the enabler to improving his profitability, reducing his costs or creating new opportunities is through the use of technology in some form or other, but that is not at the forefront of his thinking.
Very often the business leader is telling us his problem and all we can think of is what piece of tech we can sell him. That’s obviously not a tenable approach to a successful long-term relationship and at the end of the day, we will only grow our business in conjunction with clients that continue to grow theirs.
There is really no other way that we can be sustainable.
What does that mean for us? We need to listen way more than we currently do. We need to skill ourselves up to understand that there is more to the conversation than just an IT problem and factors such as innovation, business restructuring and growth-enablement need to be in our realm of understanding.
We need to be able to hear the golden thread that is running through the conversation that the business leader is having with us.
If we can start doing these things then I believe that a solutions-based approach to helping our customers do better business is not only possible, but actually inevitable.