Relationship building is a big part of both sales and marketing. However, as with all relationships, there are secrets that one side or the other simply won't reveal.

Take your relationship with your kids, for instance. You're probably not going to share what happened on THAT business trip. You know the one I mean. And, now that I've brought it up, you might not want to share that particular story with your spouse either. Just sayin'.

Similarly, you're probably keeping some secrets from your boss that you'd never tell him in a million years. Like the way his comb-over flaps like bird in the draft from the air conditioner over his favorite seat in the conference room. (Yah. True story.)

In the exact same way, you're probably not going share with your customer that you'd rather be doing something else, or that you know (in your heart of hearts) that the product you're selling is second rate. Or whatever you're not telling the customer.

Since relationships depend (to a certain extent) upon limited information, it shouldn't be surprising that your customers are keeping a secret from you. And here it is: "If we're not talking about me, I'm bored."

Customers won't ever say that (even though it's true) because telling somebody that they're boring is taboo in our business culture. Not sure why. Maybe it's because we all suspect that we're just as boring as everyone else? 

Regardless, even when a seller or marketer is tedious beyond belief, customers never say: "you're boring me so either shut up or start talking about something interesting, i.e. me." Instead, they wait until you're done speaking and try to get away from you.

Which isn't the kind of relationship you want to have with your customers.

Fun experiment. Next time you're at a conference, and a presenter begins his talk with a corporate overview (as most do), look around at everyone else. The people who aren't openly ignoring the speaker will be wearing the "grimace of patience"--eyes open a just little too wide, mouth slightly clenched into a half-smile, and an air of quiet desperation.

Again, that's not how you want your customers to look and feel.

There are three main topics--all of which show up frequently in conversations with customers and marketing materials--that inevitably cause your customers' collective eyes to glaze over:

  • Your firm's corporate history. You think you're creating credibility by explaining how long you've been around or how many customers you've served, etc. What you're really doing is boring the customers, who just don't care about that stuff, even if they weren't aware (as they are) that you're providing a highly selective narrative that's probably at least 50% bullsh*.
  • Your personal history. You think you're creating trust by revealing some of your "fascinating" life's story, like how motivated you are sell, how much you love your industry, how enthusiastic you are, etc. What you're really doing is boring the customers, who simply don't give a crap, to be blunt. Look, this isn't a job interview. All the customer wants to know is whether whatever you've got that's relevant to them.
  • Features and functions. You think you're providing compelling reasons for the customer to buy but since you're talking about what your product does (rather than what buying your product would mean to the customer), you are simply boring the customer. And possibly losing the sale.

So now you know your customers' secret. The big question now is: what are you going to DO about it? Big surprise: I have some suggestions:

  1. Listen more than you talk. Nobody is ever bored by the sound of their own voice, so if your mouth isn't moving in the conversation, you aren't boring the customer.
  2. Ask more than you tell. Asking questions keeps the focus on the customer and away from you. If it's a presentation, ask frequent questions of the audience.
  3. Show what your product means. If you give a demonstration, build it around how the product will change the customer's life rather than all the "things" the product does.
  4. Describe benefits first. Only talk about a feature or function after a customer asks how a benefit works. E.g. Customer: "How, exactly, does your software eliminate paperwork?"
  5. Avoid the first person. Every time you use the pronouns "I, we, my, our", you are turning the focus towards yourself. Only use these pronouns when it's awkward to omit them.

BTW, if you follow the rules above, far from thinking you a bloody bore, your customers will think you're one of the most interesting people they've ever met!

And they'll want to spend more time with you. 

Which means more sales, of course.