One of my favorite marketing thought leaders doesn’t have a background in advertising, or PR or social media.
Jill Konrath is a salesperson deluxe. You may know her as an author, blogger, strategist or as a featured guest on HubSpot’s blogs and webinars. I love her strategic approach to sales.
In this post, she writes about how she learned to ask questions. For her it was a social tool, as in how-to-date-boys social. (Cute post!)
As marketers, we must constantly ask questions. Curiosity about your customer and your community drives you to understand who they are, how they think and feel, how you can bring them value and how you might develop meaningful relationships.
Jill reminded me of an incident that made me see sales in a new light.
It was July, 22 years ago.
My friend Jack from New York had been visiting me in San Francisco for an extended vacation. It was his first West Coast visit, and he was having a blast.
But suddenly, I had a new job, and an entire month before it began. We decided to take my convertible on a road trip – up and down the West Coast from Monterey to Big Sur to San Diego to Yosemite to the Northern California redwood coast to Portland. And back again. It lasted all month, and it was amazing.
Along the way we camped, stayed in cheap hotels, and crashed with friends and relatives. One such friend was Bill, a high school acquaintance from Virginia.
Turns out, the things I didn’t know about this guy could fill a book.
Which was too bad for me, because he was more interesting than I had ever imagined. But I had never thought to ask.
Friends told me that Bill had moved to California to sell airplanes and I should look him up. Jack and I spent a day in Santa Barbara and the night at Bill’s apartment across the street from the beach. Bill was friendly, easy to spend time with, and a great host.
The next morning, as we set out for L.A., Jack started to tell me things I didn’t know about Bill.
“I really like him,” Jack started.
“No, I really liked him.”
Jack proceeded to tell me about Bill’s life, including nuggets about his family, his girlfriend, a love affair that went wrong, the disappointment, the decision to put a continent between him and his heartbreak, and the ups and downs of aircraft sales.
“We talked when you went to the store last night,” Jack said.
“But I was only gone 15, maybe 20 minutes!”
“I’m a salesman,” Jack said. “I ask people questions. I listen. I get to know them. It’s my job.”
I was stunned. All I could think about was how little I really knew about my friends, my family and my professional relationships… because I had never asked! I wondered how much of the story I was actually missing, and if I was really as self-centered as I suddenly felt.
It was a life lesson and a business lesson, all rolled up in one, from my friend who until recently sold janitor supplies.
To this day, I get embarrassed and disappointed when I realize I’ve done more talking than listening in any conversation. It happens way too often, but I try to keep it in check.
There’s so much you’ll never learn from people if you don’t let them talk.
Natural curiosity is a gift. But I believe you can develop your curiosity, as well as your questioning and listening skills. Put another way, you can train yourself to care more about other people’s experiences, feelings, opinions and well being.
Maybe it’s a bit idealistic, but I think that’s what business ought to be about.
What do you think?