Magnify the meeting: Mix these elements into your customer interactions

Some of you know that in a past life I worked in metallurgy.

There were two aspects of metallurgy that fascinated me. One was how much you could learn about a metal alloy by viewing it at high magnification under the microscope.

The second was the way miniscule changes to an alloy’s chemistry could determine if the end product lasted six days or six years. In other words, the way the tiniest changes meant success or failure.

Meetings under microscopes

I find the customer interaction in sales equally fascinating for the same two reasons. Understanding the interaction at high magnification and making miniscule changes to its “chemistry” can determine if a conversation lasts six seconds or six minutes…or if countless other measures of success or failure go in our favor.

Take the cold call as an example. An activity I give salespeople has them evaluating a written cold call script that is maybe 200 words long. It starts at the point of “ring-ring” of the customer’s phone. It then proceeds to a few basic greeting exchanges between salesperson and prospect followed by some sort of elevator message.

In every case (for salespeople who’ve had no prior exposure to what I teach) the students’ evaluation focuses on what they perceive as the quality of the elevator message, even though the script has the salesperson saying, “Did I reach you at a good time?” after the prospect says, “Hello.”

Why do they evaluate it that way? Because they’re viewing the interaction with the “unaided eye,” not at high magnification. When that exchange is evaluated under the microscope – the way all interactions should be evaluated – its defective element is immediately exposed: “Did I reach you at a good time?” Game over!

Add these six elements to your interactions

I’ve asked client salespeople who’ve learned and regularly use the mindset and language I write about in these pages for the “microscopic changes” they wished they had started to make sooner than they did in their customer interactions…but didn’t because of basic fear or discomfort.

Here are the six of the most popular responses. A few might be familiar to regular readers of these pages. Note that not all involve language. Some involve mindset. Our mindset does affect what we say, of course. But more importantly, it affects what we passively hear and respond to and the overall direction we take the interaction.

  • Eliminate the word “needs” from your discussion with customers and prospects. This is one of my favorite alloy elements (to remove, of course). Wherever you would normally say “needs” use, instead, “What you’re trying to accomplish.” Huge difference in response.
  • Be very aware of how – not how well – you listen. Once you do, you’ll quickly realize that you are almost completely focused on transactional information (the deal, the opportunity, the timing, the requirements, the decision makers, etc.) to the exclusion of almost everything else. Customers pick up on this transactional mindset and see you as just like other salespeople.
  • Find ways to use the phrase, “Explore the fit that I think might exist between our two companies.” Don’t say, “See if there’s a fit” or “The fit that exists” or anything else. Try to use it verbatim. Salespeople are often reluctant to use this language…sounds too hedging: “Explore”, “Think,” “Might.” Trust me on this one…hedging helps!
  • When you meet with a new prospect, start the conversation with basic small talk about weather, traffic, sports…whatever. But don’t try building rapport by doing anything that he/she might interpret as “salesman making nice with me,” however sincere and genuine you might be. This means if you hunt giraffes with slingshots, and the prospect has a full size giraffe mount in his office with a slingshot draped from its head, don’t say a word at the start of the meeting. Save it to the end. You get huge style points and you might even benefit from the common interest.
  • Try to incorporate the language: “I wonder if we could step back so I can get a little better feel for the big picture.” The control and interest it conveys helps foster full engagement by the customer.
  • Don’t say: “Thanks for your time,” “I know you’re busy,” “I appreciate the time,” “I’ll get right to the point,” ” I’ll let you get back to work,” “I’ll get out of your hair,” “…of your time” (as in, “I’d like to get 20 minutes of your time”). Try using this sentence: “I’ve been looking forward to our meeting; glad we could make our calendars connect.” Many of our attempts to show respect are interpreted as subservience.

I want to encourage – URGE – you to mix these “little elements” into your customer interactions for the next few weeks. I guarantee you will notice changes in prospects and customers. Mostly, you will realize their defenses aren’t up as much as you might be used to.

Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Waukesha-based Stapleton Resources LLC ( He is also the author of the book, “From Vendor to Business Resource.”

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