This is my 3rd blog about embracing conflict and I think there are a few more to write. I could probably blog about this topic for the next month. The willingness to ask questions and to artfully challenge or question preconceived notions is critical for your success in sales or executive management.
Just recently I was in a meeting with a prospective customer for my company. We were meeting with the president and the VP of Sales. One of my sales guys had arranged the meeting on a cold-call so the two we were meeting with did not know much about us. We help companies grow by bringing in new customers so if you are the sales manager for a prospective customer you may not be enthralled with meeting with us. A sales manager can and many times does see us as a threat or an admission that he/she is not doing a good job, however, this is many times not the case. There are many reasons a company may not be growing and attracting new customers and in many instances, it is inaccurate to simply blame the salespeople.
In this particular meeting, the VP of Sales was clearly unenthusiastic about our visit. After the meeting had lasted about 30 minutes and we had a pretty good understanding of their situation, I said to the VP, “Obviously you are skeptical?” I then finished my sentence and turned to him to allow him to respond. His body language and the way he participated in the meeting was shouting out that he resented being in this meeting with us. He responded saying, “I am not skeptical” and then he said a few more things and realized that he was not being honest and admitted that he was very skeptical.
There you have it, the importance of embracing conflict and dealing with the obvious. When I spoke directly to the situation I gave him the opportunity to verbalize the information that he was feeling. He commented on a few concerns, which frankly many of which I had heard before. I did not address his concerns at this point in the sales cycle. It would not have made a difference. The important thing was to get him to put those concerns on the table. By doing this we established a precedent: we will address the obvious and we are not afraid of bad news.
The significance of doing this cannot be overstated. Success in sales is dependent on gaining trust. In this simple act, we sent a message that we understand that discussing significant organizational challenges starts with a willingness to deal with the obvious. Break through success does not happen by avoiding conflict but by embracing it.
Now, I have no idea whether this prospect will turn into a customer. We are just beginning so time will tell. I can say with certainty though, we made an impression and our chances of doing business with them are significantly higher because of how we handled ourselves in this first meeting.