#2: Emptying the Trunk

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Like most men, I am a fixer. Not a handyman, mind you. I’ve lost my interest in doing major projects around the house. I think the basement finish project in our last house did me in. No, in the case of being a fixer, I enjoy – dare I say, I’m driven to – fix things. I hear any amount of a need in the air and I jump on it with solutions dripping with enthusiasm and experience and sage advice. I’ve come to find, however, that most people really don’t want everything just fixed. Tough as it is for me to accept, some people just want to share, or complain, or find solace over a frustration and aren’t really looking for a solution. This frustrated me for years until I recently ran headfirst into it with my wife. After much handwringing and apologizing, I learned the need was very different from what I believed it to be. I now listen, seek to understand her motives for sharing and adjust my approach so as to fill her needs and not mine. It’s similar with major account customers we call on. Our tendencies as account managers are to work to solve problems and to fix issues our customers see as challenging. So in many cases we hear the first word of difficulty or challenge and we want to back up the company car and unload all of our “stuff” in an effort to fix things. We believe we will be considered “problem solvers” or “of value” by resolving our customers’ issues. In reality, we are being very self-serving. We become so focused on earning our customer’s admiration we genuinely believe we are doing them a service by offering suggestions and ideas. The situations they are experiencing may not be as challenging as we believe or may not have triggered them to consider solutions. In our haste to be fixers, we miss a golden opportunity to learn more, and we certainly ignore how our customers process and analyze their business. Instead of offering solutions, our next step should be to seek to better understand. We do this by asking good questions that help the customer think through, the challenge, the consequences of not fixing things and the impact the problem may be having on the organization. Through positive inquiry we can begin forming a much better solution and will learn more about our customers in the process. My advice – have a few good questions in your back pocket. Simple questions like, “Why is that?”, “Tell me more about that…”, and “What might that cause?” Ask these questions and extend and enrich your conversations. Taking this approach will help you “pump your brakes” before you back up the company car and dump out the goodies you think will solve your customer’s challenges.

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