Thursday, December 31, 2009

Teaching and Selling, Learning and Buying

Set aside for a moment any unpleasant experiences you may have had buying a used car, dealing with cold calls from stock brokers, or fending off pushy door-to-door "witnesses." Think about the best buying experiences you have ever had. Now, among those experiences, think about the ones in which you were buying something that involved some type of technical functioning that you were initially less familiar with. Your memory might in fact be a car purchase. Or, if you are like me, it might be a cell phone or crackberry (no brand names in this blog). That person selling to you - whether called a consultant, advisor, expert, or, yes, salesperson - what did he or she do that was memorable in a positive sense?

I'm going to hazard a guess about some of the behaviors of that "advisor" that made the experience positive for you:
-Listening to you
-Asking you questions related to what you needed and wanted
-Taking the trouble to clarify what you meant
-Asking more questions and listening some more
-Pointing out how particular products (or services) specifically addressed what you said you needed
-Waiting patiently, and listening attentively to your comments and questions as you examined the product or service
-Helping to make the purchase itself easy for you

Granted, you may not have that kind of experience every day. But when you have had it, how many of the following experiences occured after you bought?

-A feeling of satisfaction with the buying decision
-A willingness to return to the same place for the next purchase - even if it was a different item
-A desire to seek out the same salesperson to assist with another purchase - even if it was for a completely different item.

So, if you haven't guessed it from the title of this blog post, I'm going to suggest that the salesperson or advisor involved was engaged in as much teaching as selling. I'm also going to suggest that the interaction which occured captured aspects of a buying experience that overlap aspects of an optimal learning experience. And in some future post, I'm going to suggest (as you may have already guessed) that a similar analysis of a positive learning experience looks suspiciously like an optimal buying experience. Then, finally, I'm going to suggest that both salespeople and teachers who reflect on these ideas will see some immediately useful ideas for enhancing the results they get everyday. Please stay tuned in 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Crowbar Just Opens the Crate...

In this blog, I have made a lot of the power of leverage, of the ability of the crowbar to use leverage to open the crate. It's an analogy that carries a lot of currency in an environment in which problems seem so large, so overwhelming, so difficult to get a handle on. Some of us welcome the simplicity of the humble crowbar that just pries the lid off of that crate.

Of course, getting the crate open is a big deal. Like thinking through the traffic jam to see the real problem, and like getting the right people to sit down to work out an agreement, getting the crate open is more than just a starting point - it's a prerequisite to progress. Until that crate is open, you just don't know what you're going to find inside, so you just don't know what the real problem is. That's the gift of the crowbar.

On the other hand, getting the crate open means seeing what's inside - seeing the problem for what it really is. If you were avoiding the problem, you may not see the crowbar as your friend. Because now (to mix metaphors) you're going to see that body bleeding on the table, and you're going to face that proverbial elephant in the middle of the room.

I can only speak for myself, but I know that I used to avoid that moment of truth -- until I learned the hard way that the problem didn't go away. Sooner or later, I was going to have to get out the more specific tools (say, hammer, wrench and screwdriver?) and start to attack the real problem that was hiding inside the crate.

Using those specific tools, though, is what we learned in school. They are the mathematical formulas to apply, the critical steps in the diagnosis, the analytical assessments that we have practiced, mastered, gotten certified in using. Now that we can see the problem, we can start using those familiar, precise tools and leveraging our subject matter expertise.

We don't need to overuse the crowbar. We just need it to get the crate open.