I was talking with a networking contact the other day, and he had recently started his business and was looking for some advice.
We talked about his target market, what his services included, and the product options he offered. I told him it all sounded pretty good to me. Honestly, he was way further down the road than a lot of the people just starting out that I’ve talked to.
“What’s the part of the business that most concerns you?” I asked him.
He shifted in his chair and said, “Most people are going to be getting mostly bad news at the lower product levels. To get good news, or to avoid hearing bad news, people will need to spend more money to go with one of the higher products.”
When you’re in the business of consultation, this is a common issue.
Most lower product levels include audits or something like that. And audits are specifically designed to point out the flaws or gaps in whatever is being audited.
You’re going to give out a lot of bad news in these situations. But if they didn’t need you, if everything was golden, you wouldn’t be called in.
And quite frankly, that goes for pretty much any product or service you offer. People aren’t looking for things they don’t need. Not when it’s going to cost a significant amount of money anyway.
So I told him that he needed to mention that to the client as early as possible in his conversations.
“Say something along the lines of, ‘some people think I skew the results of these audits to make it seem worse than it is. But that’s never the case. The audits are the same for every person. My job isn’t to tell you that you’re doing a bad job. It’s to show you where the gaps or flaws are so that you know what you can improve.’”
He looked confused and mentioned that he didn’t want to run anyone off. We talked about how any result of a test is a good result because it might provide you with a potential change that can have a huge impact on your business. And that’s how he can communicate bad news to his clients.
Being honest with clients about how uncomfortable it is to point out flaws can actually pave the way for trust. If you just start telling them everything they’re doing wrong, they might see it as a gimmick so they’ll pay you more money to fix it. They’ll shut down, and it’ll be really hard to have a conversation with them after that.
But when you say, “I know it can be hard to hear that some of your (fill in the blank) aren’t as good as they could be. I don’t love pointing it out to you. But if you don’t know about it, you can’t fix it.”
This honesty not only builds trust, it also helps you to stand out above the rest.
Most salespeople, consultants, entrepreneurs, etc. pitch their features and benefits as soon as possible.
And yes, I’ve been guilty of it too.
We’ve put our time, our money, and our heart into what we’re offering to people, so it’s hard not to tell them how great it all is.
But it doesn’t make for a good sales conversation. At all.
I’ve talked before about how setting expectations for a sales conversation is the foundation of building the trust and rapport that gets you to the close. Part of that includes letting them know that you’ll be asking some uncomfortable questions and getting consent to do so.
The other part is being honest about your own discomfort around asking those questions and then, if you get to the next step, critiquing aspects of their business to show them where they could improve.
Think about if you were talking about your service to a loved one. And not with you as the salesperson, but as somebody who has used or bought it. You’d be honest about the things that concerned you or the things that might not work the way they’d want it to. You’d do that because you’d want to help them make the best choice.
Conversations with your customers should be the same way. Even if it results in giving them less than positive feedback.
And when you’re honest about these concerns, the very worst that can happen is that they say no. If they would rather not be faced with areas of improvement from you, they were never going to be a great fit for your company anyway.
However, if they are open-minded about being told what they could be doing better, that opens the door for a lasting relationship that could result in a higher product package, which is another expectation you can set upfront.
“If you’re open to me auditing your (blank) and giving you my honest feedback, would you be open to another conversation about how we can work together to fix any issues?”
At the end of the day, we do what we do so we can help people. But not everybody wants to be helped. If you’re concerned that honesty is going to scare some people off, they probably weren’t the right people for you. But when you take the time to know your client and be honest with them about the more uncomfortable parts of the relationship and service, the right clients will appreciate it.