Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Unshared Language

Kaylie was a little fussy this evening. She was crying and unsettled and I couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong.

The problem for me, of course, is that the language she uses (screams and tears) doesn't have enough meaning to me (my wife, on the other hand, claims she can tell the difference between a hungry cry and a "change my diaper" cry). Quite often I misinterpret what Kaylie is saying and address the wrong concern.

Ironically, this is a basic problem with working as a consultant, too. No, I don't mean that one or the other of us acts in an infantile way. The problem is we are dealing with a lack of shared vocabulary.

This is why I have to ask a lot of questions when I sit down with someone to discuss a project.

I recently was chatting with a potential client. They told me that they wanted me to set up an online discussion forum. This is definitely possible, and not too difficult to do. If we decided to go forward, they would end up with a nice system which would allow all of their website visitors to carry on written "conversations" with each other. Pretty cool.

But I never leave things alone. Often people ask for things which I can deliver, but they aren't what they really want.

After continued questioning, it turned out that what they actually wanted was a facility with limited authorship and the ability for readers to comment on those authored items. Wait a minute! That's not a discussion forum. That's a blog -- OK, a blog with multiple authors (definitely easy to do), but a blog nonetheless.

If I had set up a discussion forum for that prospect, he probably wouldn't have been very satisfied. In the end I would have had to spend a lot of extra time trying to get that forum to behave like a blog. No one would have been happy.

My sales coach, Joe Marr, tells us that it is our responsibility to find out exactly what problem our prospect needs us to solve. If we don't, we are giving a prescription without a diagnosis -- and that's sales malpractice.

So, have you ever run into a situation where what they were saying and what they wanted were two different things?

1 comment:

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

I ran into this problem with a client after setting up a second system to get her bill payments organized. She said to me, "I hope this works because I just want the bills to get paid!".

I noticed that she didn't say, "I want to be able to pay my bills on time".

So, I scrapped that system and told her to take a half a day off work and set up all her bills on equalized monthly payments and have them directly withdrawn from her bank account.

SHE didn't have to pay bills anymore and yet they were all paid.

Yes, listening to what ISN'T said is as important to listening to what IS said.