Ontological Coaching and Building Customer Relationships
By Mark Raymond and Wolfgang Wicher
Those of you who deal with customers will know that the area of building relationships in this area can be a challenge. Striking the balance between being proactive and not too pushy, building trust and managing our emotional responses are a small number of the many challenges we have to deal with. In this article I am delighted to interview Wolfgang Wicher about his work in Asia in this area. Wolfgang has a background as a CEO for many years in the textile industry, which included a large emphasis on sales. Wolfgang, who has completed the Graduate Diploma of Ontological Coaching, has combined his experience and some of the ontological coaching distinctions to offer his clients a different approach to increasing sales and building customer relationships.
MR – Can you give me some background on this assignment?
WW – My client, a multinational chemical company, wanted a sales training program for their sales people in Asia. They wanted to roll out a program that had been run in the U.S.A. I delivered the program that was primarily about the different stages of the sales process. While it was well received, I recognised that they there was something missing. The sales program assumed that sales people knew how to have these sales conversations, but feedback from participants after the training confirmed that they didn't. What was missing were some of the fundamental skills in what might seem like obvious things, like how do I build trust, how do I listen, how do I see my role in the relationship with the customer. I felt like I could offer more of the "how" and help people in these areas, so we expanded the program.
MR – What do you mean by more of the “how”?
WW – Sales is a conversation which, as you know, involves listening and speaking. Most sales people think that their role is to talk, but it's to listen, and then talk. The other issue is that when customers speak, sales people might not be clear on what they are saying. I did an exercise in the program where I asked them to get into groups and speak about something, and then asked the others to say how much they understood. I found that people found this hard. First, they wanted to speak more than listen, and then they assumed they understood, but they didn't. So a large part of the program was getting them to understand what it meant to really listen and get clear, and to practice that. We set a goal of not moving along until “shared understanding had been established”.
MR – What did you cover in the program?
WW – Let me give some background first. In my opinion there are three components to being successful in Sales.
Product knowledge: This was outside my engagement but I am often surprised by large gaps in this area.
A sales process based on selling solutions to client’s needs and wants.
Conversational competence: I consider that the sales process consists of a series of conversations and how well we understand this will separate great sales people from the pack.
I set out to build the program around having a proven sales process and introducing the relevant ontological distinction to enable the participants to know what to do and how to execute. We covered things that I think are at the core of business relationships, like what it means to really listen and how to do it, and how to surface the important issues with questions. People were uncomfortable in asking some of the questions, especially about what they see as sensitive issues, like budget, so we spent some time looking at phrases that soften questions. We also looked at trust, which I think is at the core of this. I like to emphasise that we can't assume a relationship, we have to earn trust through our actions. In particular, one of the things that is important is having sales people ask themselves where their focus is - on the customer or them. As a way of looking into this, I often ask sales people when they last turned down a sale and suggested an alternative provider. We spent considerable time on this and exploring the influence of moods in how we present to customers. All up, we had about 30 participants from countries including India, China, Japan and Korea.
MR – You mentioned earlier about the role of a sales person in relation to a customer. What do you mean by that?
WW – What I mean is that in Asia there can be a tendency for sales people so see their relationship with the customer as a master-servant relationship, rather than a partnership. This can result in them not wanting to offend and perhaps not asking important questions that can save a lot time down the track. So some of the work I did with participants was getting them to reflect on how they saw their relationship with their customers, and the impact this had on increasing sales. Some reported that this resulted in them agreeing to requests from customers they knew they could never meet. This can also be seen in people's posture in meetings, so we did some work on that. Cultural norms come into play here, but many left the workshop with a determination to be more appropriately assertive in their customer relationships, and as a result, take better care of their customers.
MR – What did you learn in this?
WW – The key issue in all of this in my mind is change, this was at the heart of my assignment. I took them through the process to unearth the consequences of not altering their approach. By being selective and keeping the introduced Ontological distinctions relevant to the goal of being a more effective sales person I feel that there is a greater likelihood of embodying the training. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the work on moods was accepted and rated by the feedback. Measuring trust of their customers using the Ontological dimensions created a very positive reaction and helped them to flesh out their own ideas of trust.
The cultural differences came to the surface with regards to the acceptance of not telling the truth when it disadvantaged you. My own disregard for lying was tested by this.
Finally when you compare the coaching and selling processes there is very little difference in the series of conversations:
Background » Rapport » Shared understanding » Possibilities » Action » Follow up