I always find it interesting when the data shows the opposite of what I expect. It could be something like Simpson’s Paradox, which is just so weird, or the idea that expert poker players fold 3x more often than an amateur player.
In Adam Grant’s book “Give and Take” he shares a study from Neil Rackham that shows a similar trend in negotiation. You would think that an expert negotiator would try to do a lot of convincing to win their side, but the main key is that great negotiators ask more questions. From the book:
Neil Rackham spent nine years studying expert and average negotiators. He identified expert negotiators as those who were rated as highly effective by both sides, and had a strong track record of success with few failures. He recorded more than one hundred negotiations and combed through them to see how the experts differed from average negotiators. The expert negotiators spent much more time trying to understand the other side’s perspective: questions made up over 21 percent of the experts’ comments but less than 10 percent of the average negotiators’ comments.
It comes down to trust and empathy, and trying to understand the other side’s perspective. Rather than just trying to push for what they want, expert negotiators really work to understand the other side so they can find some common ground.
I think the same applies to sales techniques in businesses like ours. Rather than pushing for every sale, I do my best to really understand what the person really needs, and then I work to give that to them. In our case, roughly 2/3 of the potential customers that I talk with I end up sending to a different agency or freelancer because that’s what they really need. It gets them a better outcome, and saves us from working with a client that wasn’t a great fit.
As kind of a fun side bonus, as I shared a few weeks ago, asking more questions and letting the other person talk more will cause them to come away from the conversation feeling that they learned quite a lot about you.
Even if it’s not a project that we end up winning, we’ll look good (for both passing them along and for understanding what they need), our fellow marketing folks will get more business, and the client will get the result that they really needed. That’s a win for everyone involved.