The next time you're preparing for a meeting with a prospective customer (polishing the slides, queuing up the sizzle reel, practicing the demo and making sure all the "partner logos" are up to date) force yourself to stop and switch customers. Instead of the 36-year-old product manager or the 40-year-old group planning director, I want you to pretend you're meeting with a five-year-old.
This is not to say that customers are childish or somehow incapable of digesting important, detailed information. No, this is actually not about them at all. It's about you and how you're over preparing and ultimately overshooting your target.
For those who have not yet had an up-close and personal relationship with a five-year-old (or whose memory of that relationship may now be clouded by intervening years) let me describe: this is the human being in its most essential, most honest incarnation. There's relatively little depth or contemplation, and even less empathy. As she should, she cares about her own needs, her own self-preservation. Before you arrive, she's probably not thinking much about you at all, and a few minutes after you're gone she'll have mentally and emotionally moved on. Now I want you to consider your next sales call as if you'll be meeting with this five-year-old. How would you prepare differently? Which assumptions would you leave behind? How much faster would you get to the point?
Inside every human - every one of your customers - there's a five-year-old, complete with all the fidgetiness, self-involvement and impatience. Preparing to speak to that primal creature means getting to the important stuff really fast...connecting emotionally....being clear. As an assist, here are three questions that most five-year-olds like to ask, reinterpreted to help you prepare for better customer calls:
"What did you bring me?" They're not thinking about helping you out or what kind of day you're having. "What's in it for me?" is the order of the day. So... bring them something. No, not a sweatshirt or US Open tickets. Right away, first thing, hand them an agenda or a set of insights that specifically about them. Talk about anything else first - your company history, other successful customer relationship - and you're just spouting "boring grown-up stuff I don't care about."
"Where are we going?" Five-year-olds - and customers - want to know what's next so they can get excited about it. So describe the future: What's it going to be like when you're working together? How will things be better? Bring the "shared destination" to life.
"When are we going to get there?" Customers and five-year-olds are both impatient beings. Imagining them asking you this question every 3-5 minutes (as children do) will keep you honest, brief and relevant every step of the way. It's easy to assume you have more time and attention than you really do. Sticking with that assumption too long will be fatal to your sales efforts.