Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just Say "Yes"

Nancy Reagan's answer to the drug problem in the US was, "Just Say No". Not bad advice for young people thinking about experimenting with drugs, and not bad advice for parents and business owners, on occasion. 

Probably not a good idea for sales or sales support people who are answering customer questions about a product or service. Technical people have the worst time with this. A customer says, "Can your product support 10 different users simultaneously?" Chances are he's been coached to ask that question by your competitor, who knows that your base offering supports only 8. And you know the average customer actually needs only 2 or 3. This is "killer feature" marketing -- your competition hammers away at fringe "features" where he believes he can divert a prospect's attention.

Technical guys, by and large, fall right into this trap. They'll answer this question with, "No, but if you needed to do that, we recommend an expander product, available from a third party." What does the customer hear? "NO", just what your competitor hoped he would hear. The solution offered, in technical circles, is known as a "workaround", and sometimes the technical guy will even say "we have a workaround", which perhaps even reinforces "No".

In a former life running a product business, I watched this happen, even in "command performances" in a headquarters Customer Briefing Center. We'd fly prospects in on private jets and then have a technical guy fall right into a "killer feature" trap our competitor had armed the customer with. I needed a fix for that problem, and one that was easy to train and propagate.

The fix was simple. Before the next Customer Briefing, I met with the technical guys who were going to participate, and explained the problem. These were bright guys -- they weren't trying to mess up. I said, "Guys, when those kinds of questions come up, I want you to give them the same answer -- just delivered a different way. Instead of starting the answer with "No" and then following "but" with the workaround, say, "Yes -- The way you would do that is...... and then explain the workaround"". Exactly the same information, and it has the added advantage of being true. The difference is in the customer's perception. So, the answer to the multi-user question is, "Yes -- The way you'd do that is with an expander, which you can add if you ever need that many simultaneous users."

They had no clue their native response was a problem. And they had no problem with the new script. Technical people won't misrepresent a product. Nobody should. What they will do, if coached, is present it in its best possible light.

This lesson isn't specific to technical people. Scripts are important -- in almost every job in your company. Don't expect people to "make it up on their own". When it's important what people say to customers and prospects (and it always is), script it. People will say and do the right thing if you define what the right thing is.

"Script the critical moves" is a change management principle brought to us in the book Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath. They say, "Don't think big picture -- think in terms of specific behaviors."  Here's a Book Review of Switch.

If you have examples of where you have (or should have) developed and taught scripts in your company, please click "Comments" below and share them with others.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it 

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