More often than not, the contacts at your dream client companies will work from a set of assumptions—a lens through which they view their business and their decisions, including the decision to change and the decisions around selecting a new partner.
Some part of your discovery process should include eliciting and, when necessary, reshaping or replacing those assumptions to provide a higher-resolution lens, one that allows them to see something that their current set of assumptions prevents or distorts. The following ideas will help you replace your contacts’ assumptions with new ones that enable them to acquire the better results they need.
Your Dream Client’s Current Beliefs
Each of us makes a model of the world based on what we know, partly shaped by what we learn and partly shaped by our experience. Your contact has a model of their world that they have built over time. Like any model it is partial, missing information and insights that would provide greater clarity.
Much of the time, when your prospective clients are struggling to produce the results they need, the assumptions that make up their model are incorrect, inaccurate, or incomplete. Correcting their assumptions, and thus their models, means providing information that would improve the accuracy. When their model is incomplete, you help them by providing what they are missing.
The reason your contacts defend their assumptions is because they have made decisions in the past based on those presuppositions. Challenging their assumptions means challenging their past—and future—decisions, something that can require high-level diplomacy. When your contacts want something that you cannot provide them, much of the time it is because they want to keep their assumptions.
Context and Sense-Making
Helping your clients change means helping them establish new beliefs, ones that will allow them to see something that was previously opaque. This new set of beliefs allows a clearer view of their reality, the key to opening up new potential and a new future, one with better results.
To provide those new beliefs, you have to help them recognize that their assumptions are incorrect, even if you don’t do it directly or in a way that puts them on the defensive. It is never wrong to leave your contacts with a face-saving line of retreat, even if they are mature enough not to need one. Your role as sense-maker is to provide the proof that their assumptions are incorrect, inaccurate, or incomplete. By helping give them a clearer view of objective reality, you help them recognize where their beliefs and their decisions come in conflict with what is true.
One of the most effective approaches to helping clients change their assumptions and their decisions is to provide information from third parties—especially hard data, the kind that leaves little to no room for argument. By using external sources, you prevent your contacts from believing that you are simply sharing your opinion, something you can do after they recognize the limits of their assumptions.
What it Means to Be Consultative
Being consultative means that you are in the “one-up” position in the relationship as it pertains to the outcomes that you provide your clients. To occupy the position of consultant, you have to know more than your prospective client knows in the narrow area where you are an expert. You don’t, however, have to know more than your contacts about their business, or about the dozen other areas where they have greater expertise. Changing your contact’s beliefs about their business and their decisions means ensuring there is no information parity.
No part of this approach requires you to challenge your contacts in such a way that they feel they must defend their assumptions or their beliefs. In fact, the more you approach the idea of replacing their theories in a way that allows them to digest new information, without feeling as if they should have already known some of what you just shared with them, the easier it is for them to view their business and decisions in a new way.
The reason you are teaching your client what they need to believe is to help them make better decisions that produce better results— your duty as a consultative salesperson and an aspiring trusted advisor.
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