Never Tell Your Client What They Need Before They Tell It To You

Posted by Jill Konrath

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February 15, 2012

Charles H. Green, author of Trust-Based Selling and The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook, shares a story about how his boss taught him a big lesson on engaging prospects and creating value without "pitching" your product or service. 


I was young. I went on a sales call with a senior partner to a regional beer company in an old, rust belt manufacturing town. Sales were down, margins were low, and the beer had an undeniably downscale image. 

The owner told us about his proud third generation German family heritage and the copper tanks the beer was brewed in. I was thinking to myself, "Who cares! This is a marketing problem!"  

But my senior partner seemed rapt at the owner's tales of brewing prowess. The conversation meandered, and my boss asked, "Say, where does the water to brew your beer come from?"  

"At last," I thought, "we can pursue some kind of 'land of sparkling clear-blue waters' kind of image campaign. Finally we're talking something important."

"Oh, it's city water," the owner replied. Blecch, I thought; that's completely unappetizing. 

"Really," said my boss. "And where does your city get its water from?" 

"Why, from the mountain range up north," the client said. "Say – do you think we might be able to use that? I mean, like in our ad campaigns, you know – made from clear mountain water, that kind of thing?"

My boss leaned in excitedly to the owner: "You know, I think you might have something there.  Let's kick that around a bit."  We left with the sale in hand, and an excited client.

I asked my boss, "You knew that answer already; why'd you lead him on like that?"

"I didn't 'lead him on,'" my boss said. "We all like our own ideas the best. I just helped him find his own idea. He's bound to like his idea more than mine. And what does it cost me to let him have it?"

Your Turn? Share your Never-Ever Story in the comments section of my blog. boy froginmouth

Topics: Sales Books

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Jill KonrathJill Konrath is the author of three bestselling books, AGILE SELLINGSNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies. She's a frequent speaker at sales meetings and conferences. For more fresh sales strategies, download her free Prospecting Toolkit.