Learning From Your Clients

Selling to people who are smarter and more experienced than you? Don't be intimidated--be wise to how you can learn from them.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the September 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If I had to choose between selling to someone smarter and more experienced than I am and someone who is not, I would choose the former every time. Some of the strongest business relationships I have developed over the years have been with people who have taken me under their wings and taught me invaluable lessons about their businesses, their industries and selling in general. Often, they have become mentors as well as customers.

Don't be intimidated by people who have achieved success, wisdom and expertise; instead, appreciate the opportunity you have been given to learn and grow. Here are some simple strategies to remember when selling to someone SAME--smarter and more experienced:

  • Let them toot their own horns. You'll often find that a healthy ego goes hand in hand with a high level of knowledge and experience. Most SAME people are happy to let you know how much they know, and that you are now stepping into their territory. This is especially important for the new salesperson to realize--the SAME person is not blowing smoke in the air. He or she just wants you to know that you're dealing with someone who's been around and knows what he or she is doing.
  • Acknowledge their knowledge. Don't hide the fact that you're aware of how smart they are. Sincere compliments ("You've been in the business for 25 years; you must know everything there is to know about this industry") make an immediate impact on the person's attitude toward you. This is different from "sucking up"--if you don't really mean it, don't say it.
  • Don't tell them how much you know about their business. When you sell to a SAME person, the temptation is to try and impress them with how much you know about their business. It's easy to get caught up in the moment and say, "I've done some homework--let me tell you a few things I learned about your company" before you know anything about the customer. A better statement might be, "I've done some homework, and I see you've been in this business for quite a few years. I'd love to get your insight on what's new in your industry." Take the advice of Lord Chesterfield, a British statesman who said, "Never seem more learned than the people you are with. Wear your learning like a pocket watch, and keep it hidden. Do not pull it out to count the hours, but give the time when you are asked."
  • Learn something from them. People love to feel that they have had an influence on another person. Listen carefully to what the more experienced person has to say, then come back with a solution based on that information. You might say, "I thought about our conversation on how you differentiated your product line. That taught me a great lesson and helped me understand how I can do that with my product. It also helped me come up with an idea of what we can do for you." That way, you not only have a win-win sales situation, you have also given the SAME person credit for teaching you a better way to serve his or her needs.

Any time you have the chance to make a SAME person your mentor, jump at it. This person can be your wise and loyal advisor--sharing knowledge and skills, and helping you advance in business. Turning a customer into a mentor can help you be not only a better salesperson, but a better person as well.

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