A couple of months ago I was driving to work and I noticed my engine temperature climbing to the overheating mark.
As much as I hate to admit it, I am that guy who doesn’t know anything about cars.
So I take it to an auto repair shop…. Yeah, you know exactly how I felt. I was sure of one thing, we were talking big bucks. He comes out, his face serious and tells me that life as I know it will end unless I give him 500 bucks to replace my water pump. Oh by the way my serpentine belt needs replacing too. (Serpentine Belt? Who knew?)
You probably know the questions that raced through my mind. Was he honest? Did he know what he was doing? Was I throwing good money after bad? Was it worth it? My blood pressure climbed to keep pace with my anxiety.
Economists and contract specialists call this situation ”Information Asymmetry”. They like to think about it because it’s one of two conditions that affect/impede human commerce.
It’s the state that happens when one party of a transaction has more information than the other. It’s one of those simple things that “everybody knows” but until the ‘70s it hadn’t been studied seriously until a guy named George Akerlof wrote a paper about Lemons in the automobile industry. (Lemons are those cars so afflicted by defects from the get go that they spend most of their life in the shop.) If you’re in the market for a car, you have no idea if your choice is the one car of a hundred that was “lemonised” by being assembled just before quitting time on the Friday before the 4th of July long weekend. Just the knowledge that it’s a gamble that you might get that car is enough to drive you away from buying or at the very least demanding a significant reduction in the selling price.
Pretty powerful stuff. He later was awarded the Noble Prize for his work.
Let’s take another example. Your dentist tells you your kid needs to go see an orthodontist for a checkup. So you take him (probably reluctantly) and the doctor tells you he needs braces. Hell. Well you look at his teeth and they look pretty straight to you. Does he really need them or is the dentist just squeezed to make his daughters tuition at Stanford? But what do you know? He’s the expert. You need to make a decision…
But how? We’re talking thousands of dollars here. How do you decide? How do you make a smart decision? Sure you could go on the internet (and the internet is always right isn’t it?) Somehow you end up making the decision on blind trust.
How comfortable is that for you?
That’s information asymmetry.
In any transaction, knowledge is power. And it doesn’t feel too good to be the one without the power. And when it’s you on the minus side, the only thing you have is trust. (And if it’s a stranger on the plus side, 9 times out of ten you walk away. And if on the tenth you buy, chances are you will suffer some form of buyer’s remorse.)
So it’s no surprise that your reaction is RESISTANCE. At least until that unbalance of knowledge is corrected.
If the gap is over an item you can feel or touch, like a car or a laptop, then you might go to that holy font of all knowledge, the internet. What you find there might at least give you some facts to narrow the gap. (See why a brand is so important?)
If you’re the guy on the other side of the table– The Seller/Provider. You face a challenge. You’ve got a family to feed. The rent and bills are coming due. You know you’ve got a good product or service that’s perfect for the guy on the other side.
And you think he’s too dumb to see it… Not! You just didn’t do a good enough job helping him balance the information gap.
The good news is that the more asymmetry the less chance your goods or service is a commodity.
The skill set that balances out that asymmetry ever since man traded a few pieces of flint for some mammoth tusks is selling.
I went through this long winded discussion on information asymmetry because a good deal of sales training ignores the perfectly rational response of the buyer to resist making a decision. They tout techniques of persuasion and teach tricks to overcome that resistance he feels. And then they say… close close close… (Jesus no wonder people hate selling)
I write this because most people take this response personally; like it’s a rejection of either you or your product/service. If you can see a need/want going unfulfilled in your customer, all it really means is that you haven’t resolved the information issue. I’m going to suggest that you take a look at your “method of work”, your bedside manner with that in mind.
.Hmmm, I can hear some of you saying, “I don’t need no stinking sales skills! I work the accounting department and my wife is in design”
What about your past job interviews? How good were you at selling yourself? Even if you’ve spent thousands of hours developing your skill sets, you’ll never get a chance to exercise your expertise unless you first can learn how to sell it.
And if you get over your initial misconceptions….you can learn.
My Doctor could be a superb salesman; come to think of it he is. He has this quality of calm competence. When he talks to me he gives his complete attention. I’m sure that when I schedule a visit my blood pressure actually drops after my visit.
He’s an expert at what he does. Well duh you might say. That’s the main requirement for a doctor isn’t it?
Well sure, but his ability to communicate it isn’t common. The call isn’t about his ego it’s all about you. And as he sees a symptom or hears a complaint, he’s careful to talk about in terms I can understand.
He’s constantly teaching. He’s careful to balance out the information gap.
The guy who cleans my carpets is the same way. When he comes to check out the job he is really into it. He hums and tisk tisks. You hear mutters as he checks out the strains and talks about each of them as if they were the most interesting problem in the world.
And he teaches as well….
It’s important to him that you understand enough to appreciate his work… In the end you are left wondering if carpets aren’t the most interesting thing in the world. As you might imagine my experience with his competition is far different. All they offer a muttered price after a cursory examination.
Both of these examples show a great method of work, a great way to go about the process of selling ones expertise. If you can’t communicate your expertise you might be a scholar on your chosen field but you sure aren’t an expert.
That simple trust building is crucial to becoming better at selling.