For decades salespeople were told their job was to convince the buyer about the need for the product or service. The salesperson was supposed to know better than the prospect, and know more. As long as the salesperson was persuasive, the buyer would believe — and buy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And the sellers who embrace their own ignorance are far more successful than those who don’t.
Ignorance is defined as lack of knowledge. Not to be confused with “stupid,” ignorance is simply being uninformed. The world opens up when a salesperson acknowledges and embraces their lack of knowledge. Every aspect of the sales process can, and should be, approached from the standpoint of “I don’t know.” When a salesperson embraces how much they don’t know, they operate from a position of curiosity. When we are curious, we are open to learning. Let’s break it down.
Networking in Person
So many salespeople go to networking events with the goal of gaining a sale. They spend their time talking about their product or service instead of listening to others. However, networking isn’t about gaining a sale in the moment. It is about building relationships with people who may, or may not, need what you have to sell. And the truth is that you probably have no idea who is at the event and where they might fit in your world. When you embrace your ignorance, you approach the event with an eagerness to discover and learn. Your goal is to figure out who you’d like to continue getting to know.
When you let go of looking for customers you find resources. Some people will be great referral partners, while others will become business friends. Still others will turn into trusted providers you can refer to your clients and connections. Will any of these people turn into customers? Maybe. When they trust you and have a need for what you offer, they will work with you. But, not until then. And that takes time. Moreover, when you are open to learning you will also identify those people who have no place in your world.
Networking online should have the same goal as in-person networking. The difference is you will be seeking out connections with people instead of showing up at the same event. The same rules apply. You aren’t trying to sell something. You are trying to build relationships and learn. Period. You don’t know if anyone you meet needs what you offer. You don’t know if they fit your view of a good customer. You don’t know if they might be a valuable resource. You don’t know if they are truly good at what they do and have similar values and ethics. There is so much you don’t know.
The other side of “I don’t know” is “they don’t know.” They don’t know you. Embrace their ignorance as well. They don’t know what you offer, how you work, how they could benefit from working with you. So, whether it’s in-person or online networking, the people you meet aren’t going to instantly buy from you. There’s too much they don’t know.
Oftentimes salespeople decide that everyone in their target market is an ideal prospect. They follow the belief that they should be able to sell to everyone — as long as they are persuasive enough. Once again, the truth is there is so much they don’t know about each prospect within a target market. Own how much you don’t know and embark on a journey to learn. When you start out by telling yourself you have no idea whether this prospect is worth pursuing, you will seek to find out. That is the basis of discovery. Be in a curious mindset. Make your goal one of learning, not believing. Remember, you don’t know enough to make a determination. Your job is to get educated, not to try to educate others.
I put the word “selling” in quotation marks because “selling” as many of us have been trained is antithetical to success. In order to truly sell you have to give up the idea of telling, presenting, convincing, and persuading. Adopt the practice of asking a lot of questions so you can learn as much as you can about the prospect. The salespeople who do ask questions often don’t always ask enough of them. Salespeople tend to focus on the problem they solve. However, you need to go further.
In order to truly determine if a prospect is right for you, and you are right for them, you need to understand a lot more about them than the problem they are having. Think about things like budget, decision making, urgency, and impact. Until you ask about these things, and gain meaningful answers, you can’t present your solution. All of those things are tied up in your ability to help them. Moreover, they won’t be able to see how you are the right solution for them if those questions haven’t been explored.
Selling should really be a discovery process where the seller and the buyer work toward understanding the buyer’s needs, processes, and expectations. Then, and only then, can the seller connect a solution to their situation completely — and in a way that makes sense to the buyer.
So, start from a position of “I don’t know: and go from there. Embrace the idea that you are completely ignorant regarding who you meet, where (and if) they fit in your world, and which prospects should become clients. It is that ignorance that will present untold opportunities to grow your business.
About the author: Diane Helbig is an international business and leadership change agent, author, award-winning speaker, podcast host and web TV channel host. As president of Helbig Enterprises (helbigenterprises.com), she helps businesses and organizations operate more constructively and profitably. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.