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KNOWLEDGE CENTER

Why a Little Tension in Your Customer Meetings Can Be a Good Thing

By Susan Hall

Is your sales cycle too long? Are your salespeople doing long discovery but not closing any opportunities? Susan Hall and Tim Deuitch discuss strategies to leverage tension when meeting with a customer to win more business and build trust.

Susan Hall: 00:01  Hello and welcome to the Strategic Insights Podcast brought to you by Strategic Enhancement Group. I'm Susan Hall, Vice President of Business Development and Performance Improvement and today I'm joined by Tim Deuitch, Senior Performance Consultant with Strategic Enhancement Group. Welcome, Tim.

Tim Deuitch: 00:17  Hi Susan. How are you?

Susan Hall: 00:20  Great, always good to have you here. Today Tim, I'd like to talk with you and our listeners about the concept of tension and customer meetings, and why that can actually be a good thing in terms of more productive meetings. First of all, I think it's really important to differentiate that there are two types of tension in any kind of business interaction. The first is relationship tension, this is that discomfort or maybe a little bit of insecurity you might feel when the relationship is new such as your first meeting with a customer or if you know there's some sort of challenge. Usually, relationship tension decreases over time when you grow more comfortable with each other and you build trust. The second type of tension is task tension and that's the level of interest or urgency that a customer feels about working with you or a salesperson on any given problem. So usually as relationship tension decreases, task tension increases. In other words, if I'm more comfortable with you, I trust you, so I'm going to feel more comfortable getting to the task at hand. Does that make sense?

Tim Deuitch: 01:37  It does. The challenge a salesperson might have in a customer meeting for ensuring that you get task tension is to be intentional. Where I've seen task tension surface best is when a salesperson is comfortable establishing it and that is as simple sometimes as saying, "One of the things I want to make sure we do is move forward from this moment and I'd like to get your interest on how we would do that," and to just say that out loud, instead of hoping it sort of happens organically.

Susan Hall: 02:14  Right, and you can begin kind of planting those seeds, if you will, to get some work done. Very early in my career, I had a customer with whom I had a really great relationship, high levels of trust. I was still kind of new to the counselor process and I was very much enamored with the whole process of discovery. She finally sat me down one day and looked at me and said, "Susan, I really enjoy meeting with you, but isn't there a point where you should be asking me to do something?" And it hit me right between the eyes because here was a customer that was ready, her task tension was high, and for whatever reason, I wasn't picking up those signals. I wasn't moving the process forward. That's an extreme example and very rarely will you have a customer actually tell you that, "Okay, you need to get on it, let's do this". But, how often do you hear from sales managers, "You know what, our sales cycle is too long. Our customer doesn't seem to have any sense of urgency. This is taking forever, it's not moving forward." What other things do you hear Tim, that tell you that task tension isn't high enough?

Tim Deuitch: 03:31  Well, there are really two areas, there may be more than that, but for me, what I hear is two laments of the sales manager. Either about the cycle, as you're saying, or about their own people, and they kind of fall into two categories. One is that example that you shared, which is, "My people are like professional visitors." They build good relationships, but the business isn't as good as the relationship is. So they are looking for ways to move from a very highly comfortable position into one that's more action-oriented.

Then there's the other were the salesperson learns only the basic needs of a customer. They sort of get to a point where they're nervous in the other direction. The customer might share, "Sure, I have a need in this area," and then the salesperson just kind of snatches that and runs back to the office and says, "All right, I got it. I have a gold nugget," when there may be much more gold there than just the little nugget they found. That confuses the internal fulfillment people back at the salesperson's company because there may just not be enough knowledge generated from there. So two forms. One, they don't elevate task tension at all to move forward, or they stifle it because they get a kernel of something, and then they run back to the office and attempt to address it.

Susan Hall: 05:07  That leads to a prolonged sales cycle. It leads to frustration not only for the sales organization but also the customer organization. The goal then is to decrease relationship tension and increase task tension, and I want to be clear because I know Tim, we could talk for hours on how do you build trust and decrease relationship tension. But today is about, how do we increase task tension with an urgency to get things done. So, I know I've got some thoughts on this. What are your thoughts? Any specific tips that you have for our listeners on increasing task tension?

Tim Deuitch: 05:52  Well, on the one hand, increasing task tension or that moment where the feeling is, "Seems like it's time to get down to business," and so the tip is, verbalize that. "Sounds like it's time for us to talk about how we can move forward, do I have that right?" So the tip is that. On the other hand, you see people naturally ask for that permission to move it forward. You're in an initial meeting, you're not quite getting into super deep discovery, but it's questions like, "Can you tell me why you think we might be helpful to you?" Or, it's a question that says, "It's great to get to know you...," that's the comfort, relationship tension is down, "It's great to get to know you, how would you like to proceed from this moment?" Or, "I'm eager to learn how we can assist you, where shall we start?" That's language of urgency, isn't it? I mean, "I'm eager to learn how to help, where shall we begin?"

Susan Hall: 06:59  I think too, it's really important that if this is going to be a business relationship and a partnership, the customer has to have some skin in the game too. This means that there are some things, that through the process, you're going to need them to do for you, and it might be, "Can you introduce me to the person who can give me a perspective on this problem? Can you share with me, your latest Powerpoint from the town hall in terms of your strategy and vision that will help us make sure that we're connecting to it?" Involve your customer in those next steps so that you can really determine them.

We had a builder salesperson one time when we did a bathroom remodel and she was masterful at this. Every step of the way we were committing to something, and it could be something very little like sitting down to envision our dream bathroom. But then, it was choosing colors and surfaces, and by the time we met at the showroom, we hadn't even seen the proposal yet, it was our bathroom. I mean, we were so excited about this because we had invested, we had put some skin into the game, and we built this together. That's the kind of process that's going to be most effective with your customers as well.

Tim Deuitch: 08:24  I completely agree.

Susan Hall: 08:27  I think one last thing that I leave you with is the whole concept of next steps. If you remember one thing from this podcast, never leave a meeting with your customer without at least one agreed upon next step. Have the next steps that you would suggest in mind, but always start by asking the customer what would they like to see as next steps, when and how should I follow up? And if you get a response like, "Oh, anytime you want Tim, you're always welcome to call." How high do you think their task tension really is?

Tim Deuitch: 09:02  It doesn't feel high if they leave it that open-ended. I think this is an important moment because you trust that you have comfort with them, you've lowered relationship tension, they're having a comfortable dialogue with you. But, there is a moment, if it's not there, it's not there. If there is no immediate need, then respect that. Actually, you want to confirm that openly, "Well it seems like you're not yet ready to move forward, do I have that correct?" Often they will come back and say, "Well, yeah, you're right, the best time is X or Y." So be in that moment, as opposed to sort of unnaturally seeking a commitment that they're not prepared to make.

Susan Hall: 09:56  I think that's a great point, Tim. To summarize here, we've talked about two different types of tensions. One is relationship tension that tends to decrease over time as you build trust, and task tension, which is that sense of urgency to get things done and build a project or a process together.

The goal is to increase task tension and how do we do that?

We've talked about a number of ways. One is involving the customers, make sure that they've got a stake in this process too. You shared some really good questions, Tim, that you asked to keep the process moving forward. We also talked about the concept of having a clear agreed upon next steps, and then finally, if there's no need, there's no need, respect that. So all of this assumes of course, that relationship tension is low and that you've got a high level of comfort and trust, and you've earned the right to build these next steps.

I think you will find that if you use some of these skills, your sense of relationship tension will be lower, and task tension and trust will be higher. Your customers will engage in a much more efficient process that results in better business, more value, and less frustration for all of you.

So thanks for joining us today. If you have any further questions or thoughts, we always welcome them and please visit our website at StrategicEnhancement.com.

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Published: June 15, 2018

MEET THE AUTHOR

Susan Hall

Vice President- Business Development & Performance Improvement

Susan brings over 20 years of experience working with global markets and organizations, helping them navigate through tough economic challenges while maintaining their margins. Since joining SEG in 1995, she has had the privilege of working with organizations that truly value the development of their employees and recognize the impact their people have on their bottom line results. Susan graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a double major in business management and speech communication. She has also completed course work toward her master's degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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