Dig a Little Deeper!

I recently re-watched The Princess and the Frog and realized it could be interpreted on yet another level, as an allegory for how to be more successful as a Sales Engineer. For those who haven’t seen the film (and I recommend you do), you can catch up on the plot at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_princess_and_the_frog.

The film has a great villain in Doctor Facilier, a witch doctor who is well-written and expertly performed by Keith David, with a certain charm and a great motivation. Doctor Facilier is a great sales guy, he builds trust and gets right to giving the customer what he asked for.

Check out the following video for an example of how he works:

He really does a good job tailoring his message and taking control of the conversation. In four minutes he has their trust and buy-in, even though he’s selling to two different buyers at once.

At the end of the day Doctor Facilier gets what he wants, but he is lacking one thing that proper sales people need to be successful in the long term: repeat business.

When you give a customer what they “want” you risk selling something that doesn’t really fit their needs. They want feature X, thinking it will solve their problem, without realizing the true underlying issues at play. It’s important to give the customer what they want, but if you sell the sizzle when there’s no steak, they end up looking bad when everyone figures out just how much they spent on shelfware.

Now compare Doctor Facilier with Mama Odie, who quickly quashes the idea that “want” and “need” are the same thing:

Mama Odie looks deeper than the initial statements she hears and gets to the underlying issues, creating a proper, permanent solution. Like Doctor Facilier she certainly takes charge and manages the conversation, she talks to each member of her audience on their terms, but she also teaches them and, more importantly, she “digs a little deeper”.

It is so important when working with customers that you fight the urge to jump into selling mode when working with customers. They will inevitably talk about something they are looking for that you provide, and at that point it is incredibly tempting to start talking and expound on how your product does what they are asking for.

When you’re tempted to start talking, STOP. The most you should be saying at that point is “tell me more”. Every issue has multiple layers, and there’s always a number you need to discover. That number needs to either go up or go down, don’t rest till you find out what it is and what direction it needs to move. The further information you gather not only helps you find out the true challenge, it helps you make your case later.

Not only does “digging a little deeper” help improve your chance of closing, it greatly improves your chances of delivering an effective solution that addresses the customer’s needs (which is what they really want), which in turn means you get a satisfied repeat customer who refers others.

Author: Mike Hillyer

Based in Calgary, Canada, I've managed the Enterprise Sales Engineering team at Message Systems since 2006, helping senders such as Facebook, Salesforce and Match.com get the message out to their customers. Previously I was a Technical Writer, Trainer and Speaker for MySQL AB, the makers of the world's most popular Open Source RDBMS.