In 2010 I was the 4th most traveled person at my company, helping to introduce a new digital offering to clients. I was in such high demand because entering into a discussion about digital marketing with their clients made the sales professional feel vulnerable, for very good and logical reasons (these sales people are some of the most impressive individuals I’ve ever met, they aren’t easily intimidated).
The client would ask…
“Well, have you heard of company X? They said they could do A, B and C…you guys can only do B” (I paraphrase of course).
The salesperson would feel stupid if they didn’t know the company, or they couldn’t match the capabilities in the meeting. I was essentially on the road and in these meetings to handle this one question over and over and over.
The truth is, in many areas of tech (and definitely in Marketing Technology these days) it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know all the companies. The barrier to entry in “marketing services” is flat out non-existent. And here is something has and always will be true about the vast majority of technology start ups (and many new ventures within non-startups)…but established companies tend for forget this:
More often than not – there is no there, there.
(shhhh, don’t tell anybody)
And the newest of ventures have very little to lose by overselling what they can do (whereas an established company, trying to take a new capability to existing clients, has quite a lot to lose… the clients trust for one, opportunity cost of selling what they know works for another).
Say, with confidence and without losing a beat, “Nope, I haven’t heard of them. But we have a team tracking the space very closely, tell me more about them & I’ll see what I can find out for you.”
Here’s what that statement just got you:
- The chance to learn something, and gather intelligence. In fact, the most valuable intelligence…such as, what your real or potential competitors are saying to your clients.
- You leveraged your role as an already trusted, existing advisor to expand your expertise into this new field.
- You demonstrated good, active listening skills, let your client know that what’s important or of interest to them is important and of interest to you.
- You bought yourself time to research and come back with a thoughtful, useful and well-positioned reply.
- You have an explicit reason to follow up and continue the conversation with your client about the new capability.
If you lie, or skirt over the issue, and pretend either that the company referenced isn’t relevant or that you do know them when you don’t – not only do you miss all of the above good stuff… but you risk making everyone else in the room feel like they “should know” too…and the next thing you know you have a bunch of people sounding knowledgeable about something they don’t know enough about and then…you’re very off course, in your relationships, in your strategies and in your tactics… (ever seen that happen?!?)
So embrace what you don’t know as the gift that it is, a chance to learn and connect.
Susan O’Neal Gear has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of consumers, marketing and technology. Passionate about all aspects of a consumer’s relationship with brands and retailers, we’re spending the next year looking for new, groundbreaking thought leadership – if not disruptive solutions – with the potential to redefine the parameters of consumer loyalty. If you also want to see some game changing happen -then follow Upstream Insight, contribute your voice, share this post…do something!