If you were exposed to formal sales training sometime in the past, you were encouraged to ‘probe.’ The purpose of probing was focused on uncovering needs, solving problems, or asking what is standing in the way of someone buying from you. Probing questions basically constituted a checklist to determine how much time a salesperson would spend with a particular target—and if that was worth it.
“Probing” has lost its luster. Old school selling methods border on the humorous these days. Let’s face it: I don’t want to be probed; you don’t want to be probed—why should someone else? Moreover, the word “probe” has connotations that make its use almost laughable.
After two and a half years of communicating primarily electronically, empathy is far more critical to the sales process than probing. No matter where in the exhibition ecosystem you operate—selling floor space, selling exhibit design and fabrication, or selling to attendees in your exhibit—right now, above all else, people are simply happy to encounter another human being in person.
Empathy is about getting in someone else’s shoes and spending time inside their head.
Today’s interactions need to go beyond a laundry list of qualifying questions that don’t consider the feelings and experiences of the other person. The goal of this old way of selling is to categorize the person as a ‘lead’—hot, warm, cold. You know this—you’ve been there. However, it doesn’t consider the changing conditions of a person who, unlike his parents, won’t be in a single job for life—or even for five years. Getting to know people today means asking where they work—in an office? At home? What is their company’s policy—and how does it influence their job? What has this person’s experience been in the changing work environment?
Empathy can often lead to referrals, a powerful way to develop new business. True story: a supplier to the exhibit industry admired a structure on the trade show floor. They complimented the exhibit manager and asked who did the work. They learned the work was done by one of their competitors with whom the exhibit manager had a long-standing personal relationship. Not long after, the person at the competitor company left to take another job in a different field—and you guessed it. Because of the empathic conversation with the exhibit manager, the vendor was asked to showcase their capabilities. Please don’t discount the simple, memorable human experience. Because a person enjoys talking to you, they will often tell you about someone they know who might need what you offer.
Diversity. Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)
In the past, salespeople were almost always male, but as gender diversity has become a force in our world, there is a positive influx of different sensitivities and perspectives that make the old ways uncomfortable, unworkable, and unsuccessful. In addition, as our markets are now populated by people who are more representative of the world at large, we are learning new skills to make us come across as more authentically human.
An offshoot of DE&I initiatives is that companies no longer turn a blind eye to unethical practices. We don’t have to retell the stories—you’ve heard them. Expense accounts are scrutinized for signs of abuse, and not much is hidden from social media. Providing questionable entertainment and junkets to customers become red flags to finance departments evaluating how a seller reports overhead.
As our interactions become more transparent, the notion of collaboration is stripped down to essentials. The loudest voice in the room is no longer the driving force it once was. Instead, younger people and others previously marginalized in discussions are speaking up—and taking their places at the table. The result? More creativity, greater representation of cultural shifts, and the possibility for greater trade show engagement.
Probably the most important sales tool right now is storytelling. Nothing fosters collaboration more than creating a context that the other person recognizes—whether that context is person or product-centered.
Collaboration also demands that you stay curious about the world, the changing work environment, the shifts in customer preferences, and the external forces at work in the economy. Now is the time to frame your conversations to understand what the other person is experiencing. If you want to know what is replacing probing, it’s curiosity. Genuine curiosity gets away from a list of qualifiers and digs down to get to the heart of the matter, for lack of a better term.
Remember that everyone has experienced more than two years of major shifts in their personal and work lives, not to mention global shifts. No one is isolated from an event because it doesn’t occur in their backyard. The world is truly a global village. If you remember this, you’ll move from those old-school skills to building relationships that are relevant today.
At Idea International, we make it our mission to understand domestic and global issues that impact your business. Call us now to talk about how we can work together.