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The Future is Not Where the Future is, the Future is in the Past

No seminar topic will inspire more anger, frustration and denial is when I tell seminar participants that their sales strategy has too much of a future orientation. In a recent seminar a participant responded as if I were challenging one of her constitutional rights.

My point to her was her future orientation and her sales strategy mismatched the way her customers buy. Customers consistently buy intuitively to rectify and make good a past problem and will always justify their decision with a logical future orientation and with sound reasoning. Yet, the real reason, which is rarely vocalized, is they change more because of the past than the future.

Her fear was understandable and justified, because in essence, if she bought into my reasoning her years of being enthusiastic and eternally optimistic about selling future outcomes was ineffective and counterproductive. Her personal reason for her sale strategy was first and foremost that she always likes to be forward thinking and positive with her customers because the local economy in her region was so depressed and littered with negative news on plant closings and layoffs.

She felt her role was to always be the bearer of good news and optimism. She felt by solely focusing on the positive attributes her company could deliver to her customers she could enhance her standing and position in the eyes of her customers. She wanted to be an agent of positive future change at all costs. She wanted to sell dreams and hopes, instead of first focusing on worries and problems.

Her noble and well intended strategy did not buy into the idea to effectively gain the confidence to help her customers enjoy the positive future outcomes her solution promised to deliver, she would first have to intimately understand their past problems before she could fix their future challenges. Unfortunately, her process had no time or inclination to visit their past problems, it was too much of a downer by her account.

Traditional sales people by nature are very positive and eternally optimistic. This serves them very well in many areas of their selling career. They are so often very hard-charging, winner take all executives who are geared towards looking to the future. Their sunny, cheerful disposition and personality will pre-predispose them to feel uncomfortable performing one of the most important tasks they can for their customers, which is understanding their past problems that are motivating them to seek future positive outcomes.

It is essential for sales people to realize that in order for them to gain the privilege and the right to enjoy the confidence of their customers to address their future goals, they must first go back into the past or near past to better thoroughly understand their customer's problems and challenges. Without doing their due diligence, it may prove problematical in earning the necessary trust of their customers to solve their problems.

Any good historian knows that the best way to predict and prepare for the future is to thoroughly understand the past. This is no different than in the profession of selling. The sales person with the best understanding of their customer's problems and their circumstances, will consistently outsell the sales person with the best product and the best solution.

So the past is the quickest way to the future. Sales people fear rolling up their sleeves, putting their products and solution aside, and doing a diagnostic analysis of their customer's most pressing problems because they mistakingly believe they will lose control. They also fear that after their discovery process they will find that their customer has problems, but are not in a position to change, or take action to fix them because they do not have the will, the means, the authority, or the time to embark on a new corporate initiative. Once sales people learn this it now frees them up to pursue new opportunities (cold calling) which is considered a fate worse than death. This represents a classic case of delusional, avoidance activity. So instead of facing the truth, they run from the truth and avoid reality.

Can you imagine your dismay if you were to go to a leading physician to discuss a future surgery and the physician spent the entire time talking about what their procedure will entail, how it will be done, equipment and technology they will be using, without diagnosing and examining your ailments. They would be totally in violation of their Hippocratic Oath.

In today's selling environment, sales people can no longer afford the luxury of being so ego-centric, product-centric and company-centric. Where they will gain the greatest amount of trust and confidence is when they are more customer-centric. Remember, selling by its very nature so often produces the exact opposite effect, especially when it is focused solely on future outcomes. It is very difficult to help the customer grow their business and get to the next level of their future goals, without first understanding the roadblocks and hurdles they are experiencing to reach their desired outcomes. And a majority of that information is found in their past.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com