Changing the (Sales) Conversation – One Car Ride at a Time
It was just another hectic sales prospecting trip for me into the German industrial heartland. As I hurriedly walked towards the taxi rank post arrival at Frankfurt, little did I know that I was about to be propositioned for a cab ride like I had never taken before. A ride that could have been very mundane but that turned out to be something that helped me get a master class in changing the customer conversation. I am sure a lot has been said on this topic and will be said on this topic. My last known theoretical encounter with the ‘Change the (sales) Conversation’ was in the frigid amphi-theatre of a services sales workshop when I used to work with a world leading OEM vendor. I must admit that practical beats pedantic for me and my workshop experience was hair-splittingly academic.
“Pearls don’t live on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it” – Chinese Proverb
I must admit I don’t know too much about pearls. But I do know a thing or two about the rough and tumble of acquiring new customers. In the fading hours of that dull September night, I was mulling over my plans for next days and looking forward to criss-crossing the Bavarian countryside meeting a host of prospects. As I walked past the rigidly austere arrivals lounge, I was almost a bit startled when a stranger with a cheerful voice approached me and said: “Hallo, Guten Abend, Sir!” Fortified by the after effects of my large G&T on a short flight, I confidently responded in the best and only German I knew. I could differentiate my “Guten Tag” from “Guten Abend” but that was as far as my literacy levels went. Deep down, I was quite apprehensive of a conversation in German and I furiously scanned my 11 o’clock brain for the German cousin of ‘Je ne parle pas Francais’. Before I could go any further he enquired: “What kind of car do you drive? “ in fluent English.
Strange question, but it felt comforting as it came in English. What intrigued me was it came from a chatty, German stranger at almost the middle of the night in the stern environs of a German airport! I did feel like indulging myself here for a bit albeit for curiosity sake and I fired back with a chuckle:” A BMW 3-series, why do you ask?”
“For every sale you miss because you are too enthusiastic, you will miss a hundred if you are not enthusiastic enough” – Zig Ziglar
He knew he had me vaguely interested with his friendly yet direct approach. It takes one to know one and in my gut I felt there was more to it than met my eye. My much derided Sales tribe does have one thing in common and that is always to give a fellow tribesman (if not selling what you sell ofcourse) a second look, you never know what you might learn! Lukas started walking along with me doing small talk. He said I looked like a business traveler etc. and if I would be interested in knowing more about an Audi instead? It was sheer serendipity that I was thinking of considering replacing my 10 year old 318i with some other car. So I thought – what are the odds of finding a used car salesman in such an impossible and impractical place to sell such things! I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Do I shrug him off politely considering he is not part of the main taxi stand?
He went on to explain that if I liked, he could give me a ride to my hotel in Audi’s then latest A7 considering I was a BMW owner. He added that perhaps that might make me re-consider whenever I did make that decision to upgrade my car. OK, so he is not a hustler and this sounds more like an interesting conversation I thought. However, I wasn’t particularly looking to pass out after being chloroformed on the back of an Audi (new or not) in a foreign country. So I told him to re-demonstrate his badge and only then I might consider a cab ride if he showed me what we were talking about.
“People do not know what they want until you show it to them” – Steve Jobs
As we walked past the million or so BMWs and Audis in the airport’s car park, he led to me to a shiny, new all black state-of-the-art Audi A7. As we approached the car, I almost knew a pitch was coming. In Sales, like in life, timing is everything. He knew I was listening and very politely started telling me about the features of the new Audi A7. I was intrigued enough to listen to him wax lyrical about it.
As I sat admiring the car’s plush interior and helicopter like dashboard, I decided to take a chance and let him be my taxi ride. I figured this wouldn’t hurt (hopefully). He drove me past the sleeping city, taking the Autobahn to demonstrate the ferocity and power of the A7 beast. All the time, he also gave me a talking tour of its key features, intricacies, experience and of course, its superiority compared to its BMW counterpart!
He told me he was part of some alliance / partnership with Audi that helped them sell their new range to customers like me. He wasn’t even selling me the car to be honest at that point in time. In retrospect, he duly charged me for the taxi ride and made me think what my next car should be. And it didn’t necessarily have to be a BMW. I left the car thinking not whether I ended up paying more for a taxi ride but whether Audi could be my new car.
While I have not gone on to confirm from the good guys at Audi if this was Audi-sponsored marketing but it does bring home a few home truths. It doesn’t matter how good you are as a business, what your market segment is, you don’t have to carry a sales tag to do the selling. Everyone sells. And sometimes you don’t even have to sell explicitly – you just have to do enough and present a case to help customers make a decision. A decision to buy.
“It is your responsibility to make a client like you. If they like you, they will listen. If they listen, they will believe. If they believe, they will buy” – Zig Ziglar
As this experience illustrates it all started with Lukas’s approach backed up by his authenticity and most importantly his attitude that made me want to listen.
In any organization, especially any profit making enterprise we sometimes tend to forget that it all starts with a happy customer. I think this applies across the board to any role / organization you work for, and especially true for any Sales centric organization. If I look back at my example (and continuing with what Zig says):
- If they like you they will listen – His method, his genuineness and his boldness made me want to listen
- If they listen they will believe – In my case he had to show me to believe but whatever you sell, show them so they can remember. And involve them so they understand.
- If they believe they will buy – If they understand, they see the value and if they see the value then they will buy
“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song” – Another Chinese Proverb
As we approached the end of my journey, I couldn’t help resist asking him whether he did this as a full time job. Imagine my surprise (and I am not making this up) when he said he did this only by night and by day ran a small technology start-up enabling SME customers to build mobile apps that could help speed up end customer transactions! Representing a company that sells software product development and technology services to large enterprises and cutting edge start-ups, I was obliged to offer my own reverse pitch (there is no such thing as a free taxi ride) if he might want to sign up with an engineering partner like us!
So go take a chance and seek that customer! Make that call and dare to be different! Change that conversation! Sing your song and close that Sale! Happy Selling!
Name : Abhishek Somani