Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Never thump a gift melon

On my way to work, I was listening to an interview on the radio.  The host asked the guest on the program why she claimed that none of the congressmen had read a bill that was being considered.  She gave a long reply for a full 3 minutes in which she provided various statistics to explain why the bill was not in the best interests of the community.  A great tactic to highlight her concerns, but a wee bit disingenuous.  I was glad when the host gently reminded her that she had not answered his question and forced her to explain why she made that claim earlier.

I see this pattern repeated in mock interviews I conduct for MBA candidates - those who are trying for admissions or internships.  A lot of times, the candidates are more interested in highlighting why they are such a great fit that they forget to answer all aspects of the question.  I am not suggesting that MBA candidates are bad listeners, but just that I would expect this group to pay more thought into how they answer questions in an interview.  When the supposedly well trained groups (like MBA candidates) themselves exhibit this behavior, it is no wonder that the rest of the society is tone deaf as well.

While on this topic, one of my favorite sales quotes is "never thump a gift melon".  Turns out you can check if a melon is ripe by thumping it and listening for a hollow sound.  But, thumping the melon can also hurt the melon (like bananas with dark spots on the skin).  Translated, the quote means that if you have verbal commitment on a sales deal, do not try to keep selling, for you might divulge information that could jeopardize its closure.  To do this well, the sales person should "listen" to the customer and know when their selection is final.  That would be a good time to navigate the conversation to the contracts/procurement process.

On the Product Management side, we are often coached that everyone has "two ears, but just one mouth".  Fairly straightforward idea that emphasizes the importance of listening well.  This is easier said than done and requires a lot of practice.  But, one incident from my early days in Product Management helped me a lot.  I was visiting a customer with my manager.  When the discussion veered around to problems that this customer still faced, I could not resist responding to each item on the list with details about how we planned to fix the issues in the next release.  Later, my manager suggested that it might be better to just let the customer vent about all problems and go back with a roadmap update later.  This approach involves fewer interruptions (so that we can get all the details about problems), does not make us appear over defensive and gives us the opportunity to have another contact with the customer (which can be key to building a relationship)

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