Instant message

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:25 pm

How to send a completely new message to a customer in a single meeting

By Jerry Stapleton, for SBT

I’ll let you in on something. I have a personal mission. It is "to make a measurable contribution to the professional development of business to business salespeople at all levels." So you can imagine how rewarding it must have been for me to hear what "Tom," a client salesperson, had to say just a few weeks ago.
I was doing a refresher session with Tom’s company. We were just getting started by sharing experiences from the trenches.
Here’s what Tom shared with the group: "It was mind-blowing. Ever since I started operating in seek mode, my customers have been treating me completely differently. Now I know what it means to be viewed by customers as a Business Resource. For me, this really has been a transformation."
Tom had been a good salesperson – by most measures, one of this client’s best performers. He was a skeptic, too. Tom was one of those guys who says, "There’s not really much of any importance about my customers that I don’t already know."
Turns out, yes there is. And Tom acknowledged as much. By the mere act of leaving his products at the door, taking a step back and going into homework mode with his customers, Tom’s professional life was changed forever.
Dramatic? Of course. Hyperbole? Nope. This type of life-altering experience happens, dare I say it, every day to salespeople who are not afraid to go into – and stay in – seek mode.
Throughout these pages I’ve exhorted salespeople to migrate from tell mode to seek mode. "You’ve got to go way beyond needs analysis, I said. Get the pulse of the customer." I dedicated numerous columns to the art and science of conducting what I refer to as "Knowledge Calls." In those columns I emphasized mostly the tangible value of conducting Knowledge Calls – knowledge.
And it’s true, there’s much to be learned by asking good questions: knowledge of the customer’s business, competitive knowledge, organizational insights and the like.
Knowledge Calls: They’re not just for knowledge anymore
Yet there’s an aspect of Knowledge Calls – or, more generally, operating in seek mode – that is often overlooked. And, for my money – heretical as this may sound – it’s even more important than the knowledge itself that’s gained from the call. It is the way that Knowledge Calls cause customers to view salespeople differently.
To use Tom’s words, it’s "mind-blowing." Some of you might remember an incident I wrote about where, after conducting a Knowledge Call on a longtime contact, one client salesperson actually received a hug from a contact who was so thankful for the salesperson’s clear commitment to get to know his company on a business level.
Is this just a "feel good" thing? Not at all. (Although, who can argue against the personal satisfaction that one experiences when this happens?) The real value is how seek mode causes to customers to change their image of you from that of a traditional salesperson to that of a Business Resource.
More specifically, through seek mode operation we move our relationship with customers from that of a "master/servant" or "buddy/buddy" type of relationship to that of "business peers." And when a customer views you as a peer he’s not going to jerk you around, he’s going to be more open and honest with you, and he’s far more likely to be receptive to your value message – not just your price.
By operating in true seek mode, a salesperson is sending a totally different message to customers than those customers receive from other salespeople. I say "true" seek mode because many salespeople think that they’re seek-mode types because they’re good listeners. It’s sort of like seek mode is to listening what space travel is to bicycling: they’re both modes of travel, one just takes you farther than the other.
Help me, I’ve spoken, and I can’t shut up
What’s the greatest offense against true seek mode? Failure to leave the products at the door.
Let’s say you’re in the middle of a Knowledge Call. And this baby’s hummin’. You’re framing up your questions as if you were writing poetry. The customer’s giving good answers. You’re processing his answers and drilling deeper. It’s a thing of beauty. Then, something crosses the customer’s mind that he had been meaning to ask you about your product. Rather than save it for later, he asks you right now. THIS is the moment of truth. What do you do? In our experience (and we’ve captured this countless times on videotaped role plays) you answer his questions, often in great detail. So much detail that your answer prompts further questions from the customer. And more answers from you. You’ve now lost control – and credibility.
What should you have done? It’s simple (but not easy). Reply to the customer with something like, "Yes, our system is available in an ASP format. But there’s a lot more to the story than that, and I’d love to talk to you about it. Why don’t we do this? We seem to be on a roll here. So why don’t we keep going in the direction we’re headed. Then when we’re done, we can circle back to your question. Make sense?"
Give it a try. Boldly go where few in sales seem to want to go-to seek mode territory. And watch how your customers change their perception of you. "I no longer call you servant, but peer."

Jerry Stapleton is president of Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. He can be reached at 262-524-8099 or on the Web at

July 11, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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