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ASK, NOT TELL

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Selling High-value Training Interventions

Updated: Mar 8

This post is a bit off the blog topic i.e. Training / Facilitation / Presentation. It is more about communication in general, or communication in the selling environment to be more specific. Do allow me to share it here cos what happened was really interesting.


Other than being an in-house trainer, I manage the overall personal / soft skills training offerings for the Bank in China. Recently, I was asked by a business training manager to meet up with an external vendor together. I heard about the firm before. They are expensive but feedback from their learners has been very positive. In particular, I heard from the others that the one we were going to meet was a wonderful trainer and coach. Let’s call him Ken (a fake name) I looked forward to meeting up with Ken a lot.


From my observation in the meeting, Ken is real strong in his communication skills. He is very articulated when he speaks – clear both in terms of voice and mind. Very professional and convincing appearance. Strong background as well. I learnt quite a bit from his strength in the meeting. On the other hand, I also learnt from something which he could have done better:


1. Address WIIFM - for individuals – Ken was introduced to us by one of our very senior stakeholder. The senior manager has used Ken before and holds a very high opinion on him. Ken needs to see us since he wants to extend his offering more widely in the Bank. I guess simply because of his connection with the senior he pretty much ‘ignored’ us. By ‘ignore’, I do not mean that he did not talk to us in the meeting. Instead, he apparently does not know our role in his selling attempt, and he has never asked.


My learning – Always know who I am talking to. In particular, I need to find out how this person will influence my attempt e.g. selling. I should ask these questions e.g. Is he a gatekeeper? Is he willing to take risk of using something new? What is motivation for him to support me?


2. Ask, Not Tell – During the meeting of around 60 minutes, he spoke for more than 70%. And he asked only 1 to 2 questions in the beginning. My impression was that he could not wait to TELL us how good his firm is – the sales pitch. As mentioned in the above point, he did not ask what our role is. Two major types of questions which he should have asked. The first type is Situation Question – e.g. to find out more about the existing offerings in the same topic, the decision making process in using external vendors, possible learner population (= revenue sizing for him). The second type is Problem / Implication Questions – to make us feel ‘painful’ with the current situation so that we are motivated to do something new.


My learning – Pretty much the same thing I learn from SPIN. The meeting itself was a good live experience for me to apply the SPIN knowledge.


3. Recognize the power of free-trial – One major difficulty Ken came across in the meeting is that we think his class to be too expensive – a few times more expensive than our existing class of the same topic!! Frankly, I was pretty sure we would not afford such a price for the relatively wide learner coverage as proposed. We however still tried to help. We mentioned that whether a course is expensive depends on the quality. Given such a high price, we better experience the quality ourselves. Ken agreed but he only offered to run a trial class at a low double-digit discount. Still a very high figure for us. If I were him, I would offer it totally free-of-charge.


My learning – I would do it free-of-charge because:


Immediate Advance – Given the discussion in the meeting, it would be very hard for us to say NO to a free-trial. There is no excuse. Ken would very likely get an immediate advance to his sales effort.


Discount now, discount later – I always believe that there is a big difference between FREE and DISCOUNT, though both means reduction in revenue. They communicate different messages. As a seller, I prefer to charge nothing rather than less. Offering something free of charge means that it is of one-off. However, if you discount, the discounted price can somehow be perceived as the price which you can tolerate. This is a bad message you are sending out.


Trainer-trainee relationship – In most of the training environments, trainer and trainees develop a lot of trust. At the very least, the trust level is much higher than the seller-buyer relationship. If Ken made us become his trainees, his sales would be much easier. We would be more open or even proactive in helping his sales.

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