It’s challenging to lead customer conversations in a way that has a clear structure and also responds to each customer’s unique situation. Here’s a metaphor to help you both plan and be responsive.

Problem

Subject matter experts who are asked to join sales conversations sometimes perceive the conversation as lacking a plan or clear direction. They feel that time is being wasted and that there are more efficient routes to close deals.

If these subject matter experts go on to found their own company, they then risk taking the opposite approach by creating a plan for each sales conversation and following through with the plan exactly as written.

While this planning is valuable, these founders are not prepared to respond to the customer’s situation and unique needs during the conversation. They may try to force irrelevant questions or, in the midst of questioning, try to convince the customer that they’re taking the wrong approach.

Although the unplanned salesperson from their previous company may have wasted time and lost customers by failing to plan, a sales conversation would be unnecessary if a script could just be followed—you could instead just send the customer a survey.

Solution

How can you find a balance between having a research-based plan and being responsive to each unique customer? The approach is best described by a metaphor: be a DJ, not a playlist.

Consider how a top DJ might prepare for a dance party. They research the audience and venue, break the set into segments with unique purposes, plan a trio of opening songs, and identify songs to play in response to the audience's mood throughout the set.

Once the event starts, the DJ reads the crowd. What’s their energy level? What are they responding to? When does their energy wane? The DJ may be surprised that although the event advertised itself in one way, the crowd is different than expected. The DJ responds accordingly.

If a DJ could research and plan a set to meet the audience's needs, then the DJ could have just sent in a playlist. But a responsive DJ is more valuable to the audience than a playlist.

Be the DJ of your sales conversations. Do your research and make a plan, but make sure to account for surprises. Have a core structure and include options that allow you to be responsive.

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