If you have seven minutes to spare, I encourage you to watch “The Expert.” It’s absolutely worth your time. A customer and her design specialist have a meeting with a service provider, represented by a salesperson, a project manager and an expert. The customer has budget for a new marketing project on market penetration, brand loyalty and intangible assets. According to the customer, this project requires a drawing with seven red lines, which consists of two with red ink, two with green ink, and the rest with transparent ink – and all have to be perpendicular to each other. The rest of the conversation makes for hilarious parody on sales calls.

Understanding the customer’s context

The conversation offered many opportunities to get a deeper understanding of the customer’s specific context. But the salesperson did not use the opportunity to ask a few simple questions to understand the context at all. The salesperson’s primary focus should have been to discover this context and the project’s specific scope, to create a common foundation for all. Why and how should seven red lines serve the project’s goals? How should they fit into the overall picture? If the salesperson had used this time wisely, he could also have raised the question whether seven red lines were the right approach or not. Instead, they were all totally focused on the task – the seven red lines. Even worse, the salesperson and the project manager – who did not add any value at all – did a great job to blame the expert who seemed to be the only one who saw the ridiculousness of the request.

Understanding the customer’s concepts

What was it really that the customer and her design specialist tried to accomplish, fix or avoid? What about their desired personal wins? The only one who tried to understand their concepts was the expert. He did it according to his expert role from a solution perspective, not from an overall situational perspective. Also here, the salesperson should have established a common foundation before even bothering the expert with some seven red lines. Even the members of the customer team were not even aligned at all. The design specialist had no idea of the overall picture, she was only focused on the lines in the form of a kitten and how to inflate a balloon, surrounded by having no idea what perpendicularity means in the first place.

World Class sales performers

According to our Miller Heiman 2014 Sales Best Practices Study, world class sales performers don’t provide a solution before they clearly understand what the customer’s needs actually are. Additionally, World-class salespeople have a solid understanding of the customers’ business needs. That requires to make some research prior to the meeting, to define what needs to be accomplished in the meeting. As in so many sales conversations, salespeople focus directly on a solution without having accomplished a deep understanding of the customer’s specific context and their concepts. As we have seen here, those behaviors add no value and lead to nowhere. World-class sales performers lead a customer stakeholder network through such an awareness phase to be able to provide a unique valuable perspective that helps the customers to achieve their desired results. Then, it’s about discussing potential “seven red lines,” but not earlier.