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Author: Dan Docherty

You’ve Got Problems? – Well, I’ve Got Watches!

Mastering the Customer Conversation

If you have been to New York City at any point in your life, you can probably close your eyes and visualize the food and merchandising street vendors as you walk through the streets and maneuver around the traffic, beeping horns, smoke coming up from the streets, and the constant scaffolding that you walk under as buildings are under continuous restoration. The natural energy and buzz of NYC make it one of the best cities in the world!  With that as my mental backdrop, I did a bit of research on the history of street vendors in NYC.  


I was surprised to learn that all the way back in 1609, the earliest known street foods were actually oysters and clams when Henry Hudson discovered one of the world’s most impressive harbors that had over 220,000 acres of oyster beds on the harbor floor, totaling almost half the world’s entire oyster population (Gannon, 2017). Isn’t that crazy?! Not sure I would be up for oysters in the streets of NYC. I’ll stick with a great hot dog.


Ever since then, people have been making a living selling on the streets of NYC through both good and bad times. Just like every business, the street vending business goes through cycles and changes but still must find a way to solve the objectives and problems of their customers to maximize their results. Today, there are over 12,000 street vendors in NYC and over 800 licenses for general merchandising with thousands on a waitlist. 


What in the world does this have to do with you as a salesperson, you ask?  A few years ago, my family and I traveled to New York City during the Christmas season to see a Broadway show and shop in the city. As I was walking down the crowded streets, I observed the street vendors selling items from their street-side booths. These booths were filled with multiple products, wide-ranging price points, and varying levels of quality. One table I clearly remember was filled with watches, jewelry, hats, and scarfs. I remember being interested in picking up an inexpensive sports watch as I walked up to the booth. I had already made up my mind that I was going to buy a watch to wear around the city before even approaching the vendor. My problem was that I had left my watch back in Cincinnati, and I just needed an inexpensive option to get me through the weekend. As I walked up to the booth, it was at that point where everything went wrong. 


Not only did the street vendor NOT attempt to make a connection with me, but he clearly didn’t try to understand my problem. He wanted to do what many of us do – you see someone that is even remotely interested in your product and service, and you rush to showing as many “watches” as possible. He immediately shifted an interested buyer to a defensive buyer, and I walked away. In the blink of an eye, his sale was gone. At that point, he actually put me into a fight or flight mindset, and I chose the flight option. I had a problem and a need, and he had a product. This should have been simple, right? 

Now you may be saying; I would never do that as a sales professional. Research from the BrevetGroup reports that only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can understand their needs and problems. The street vendor saw the interaction and conversation through his eyes and not mine. He lost the focus on solving my problem and instead, simply tried to sell me a product, any product he had, in fact. 


If you don’t understand and document your customers’ challenges and problems ahead of your interaction, you will statistically do no better than the street vendor. You have to resist the urge to see a prospect as a potential “transaction” whereby you open your trenchcoat and say “I see you have two wrists…well, I’ve got watches!”  


It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a life insurance policy, a piece of manufacturing equipment, a pharmaceutical product or a multi-million-dollar apartment in NYC, you must understand the problems your customers face in order to be a trusted advisor to them. So, here are a couple of practical tips. 


  1. Do your homework and document your customers’ problems ahead of your call, this will show them that you care about what they care about. 
  2. Do not quickly move from surface-level rapport building to your product. You must build a genuine connection, understand your buyer’s problems to allow your product or service to be the hero of the story.
  3. Ask the right questions to not only uncover the customer’s problem but show empathy towards the impact that problem may be having on them.  
  4. Do not forget to link your product value (features and benefits) back to the customers’ objectives and problems. If you do this right, it will increase the urgency to change because you are focused on them, not you. 


Lastly, it is critically important to remember that problems evoke emotions and products evoke judgment. When you realize that you are reducing emotions in your customers by solving their problems, you will win more opportunities. International best-selling author and Pastor Rick Warren illustrates it best in his #1 New York Times bestseller; The Purpose Driven Life: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Humility is thinking more of others.” My other favorite is, “It’s not about you.”






Warren, R., 2002. The Purpose Driven Life. Michigan: Zondervan.



Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation 


Coaches, do you understand the problems that your team members face when they come to see you? Do you coach with their problems in mind or yours? As my business partner, Jeff Bloomfield’s Papaw, taught him many years ago, “problem solvers rule the world.” However, it is not about rushing to a quick solution so that you can get your team members out of your office and back to work. At times, there is an easy solution and no doubt that context matters. Our challenge as coaches is to understand each situation. It is truly about understanding the problem, asking insightful, and provocative questions to help your team members learn new ways to solve their problems. If you can do this in an empathic way, then your team members will grow in their trust in you as their leader-coach. 


In this episode of the coaches’ corner, I want you to think about having a stopwatch in your head. The next time one of your team members brings you a problem, pretend that you are starting the stopwatch. See how long it takes you to process your team members’ comments and move to a solution. What I would recommend is that you slow down the time, really listen to the problem, and remember that our job is not to fix everything. Great coaches ask great questions. Enough questions, in fact, until their team members can arrive at a potential solution on their own. Our job is to help our team members learn. If you solve problems from a learning perspective rather than a fixing perspective, the individual will have a much better shot at sustained change. You just have to remember that it’s not about you having the “answer”, it’s about them coming up with the right “solution”.  When you don’t care who gets credit, ironically, they will inevitably give the credit to you, their favorite coach.

Objectives – The 6:00 AM Question!

Mastering the Customer Conversation


Have you ever asked yourself a simple question? What does my customer think about every day at 6:00 AM when they are getting ready for or driving to work?


How many of us have those sleepless nights where we keep running over all the things we have to do in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead? It feels as if we are on a hamster wheel, and it won’t stop. The night feels long, and the stress is real. At some point, we finally fall asleep. If you’re like me, you might wake up in the middle of the night, walk down to your home office and make a list on the whiteboard. Yes, I actually do that! Once I make a list, I find that I fall asleep faster. A good friend of mine keeps a scratch pad and a pen on the nightstand next to his bed in case he can’t sleep or if he wakes up with a great idea. I should remind him that he can record a voice memo on his Apple Watch and then go back to sleep.


A simple life tip for all of us that deal with stress is… we need rest! After a night of sleep, isn’t it amazing how the world seems clearer and calmer in the morning BEFORE we are flooded with communication from all angles? Now ask yourself this question, wouldn’t you love to have the list of the things that keeps your buyers awake at night? Is it revenue, satisfied clients, service innovation, turnover, referrals, company politics?


If you really want to connect with your customers, then you must put yourself in their shoes and think about their list. NOT YOURS! Here is the good news; in most cases, you already have the list. You just haven’t taken the time to think about it, document it and then activate that knowledge early in your customer conversations (after building trust via an authentic connection). You talk to prospects every day. If you take the time to step back and think about your buyers’ world and not yours, you can quickly come up with a “top 5” set of objectives and challenges that are at the forefront of your customers’ minds. Until you understand these objectives and challenges, how can you apply your product or service in the most meaningful way? Once you change your perspective, you begin to change the way you communicate.


Here are 5 practical approaches to building an objective centered relationship.


  1. Make a list of the top five (no more) objectives of your buyer
  2. Make a list of the top five (no more) challenges of your buyer
  3. Force rank those objectives and challenges from 1-5
  4. Highlight the objectives/challenges that you can uniquely solve
  5. After you build trust, discuss those objectives/challenges from a knowledge position supported with provocative and insightful questions


Once you do this work and can apply this early in the conversation, the speed of which your buyers will make a decision will increase. You never know, you may actually help someone sleep better at night because their list just got shorter.


Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation


Coaches, do you understand the objectives and challenges for each of your team members? Do you coach with their objectives and challenges in mind or yours? Here is a secret in coaching, help your players achieve their objectives, and yours will also be fulfilled. It is no surprise that each of our team members carries their own list of things that keep them awake at night. We have to take the time to tap into that list.  Over the next 30 days, I would like you to complete an exercise that might actually surprise you.


At the end of October, I want you to go back to your calendar and calculate how many hours you spent in 1:1 conversation with your team members. I’m talking about dedicated conversations with quality time. After you do this exercise, it may shock you how little time you actually spend with your team. If you’re not spending time, then you are making it difficult for yourself. However if you are spending quality people/relational time vs. task/transactional time then good for you, keep it up!


By making a simple change in the fourth quarter to quality time, it just may help you put your team members’ objectives/challenges at the forefront of your relationships as we close out 2019 and head into 2020.

Trust – A Key To Relationships!

Mastering the Customer Conversation


I want to share a recent experience with you. I recently had an opportunity to coach one of our clients, and they said something striking to me. “I’ve been in the sales profession for over 10 years, and all my clients already know me well. How am I going to implement the techniques of building connection and trust when I already have it?” My first response was going to be this…”If you already have it, and you are surpassing both your personal and professional aspirations then why do you need me?” After processing my emotions for a second, I decided to use a different approach. 


I thought back to a comment that my friend and business partner, Jeff Bloomfield, states in our training and coaching sessions – “If you walk into someone’s office, and you see a picture on the wall of that person sailing, and you happen to be drinking a bottle of water, do you say, oh great news, you sail and I drink water, we must have something in common!” I hope that some of you are laughing at this point, but the real question is how often do we confuse surface-level relationships with deep-level relationships?  I’m referring to relationships that have trust in the center. This applies to all of us whether we have been in our jobs for 1 year or 25. 


Here is what I would like you to do. Think of a personal or professional relationship where you have a deep-level connection built on the foundation of trust. If you can visualize someone at this moment in time, then you know what I’m talking about. Now ask yourselves this, how many of these relationships do you have within your personal and professional network? The answer might surprise you. 


We have to be honest with ourselves.  We often approach relationships from a self-preservation mindset. This type of mindset is really centered on us. In order to move from a mindset to a mind-shift, we must genuinely and authentically care about the other person. This is commonly referred to as empathy. In a 2008 article in the Journal of Management Behavior (Boyatzis), empathy is defined as sensing others’ feelings and perspectives and taking an active interest in others. In order to live this out, our focus must be on the other person and not ourselves. This is really hard to do. If we can do this, we will be on the road to building trust centered relationships that are filled with both a personal connection and professional credibility. 



Here are five practical approaches to building a trust centered relationship. 


  1. Be vulnerable so that someone can see your authentic self
  2. Ask the question from our last blog – “Why do you do what you do?”
  3. Actively listen – you heard me, I’m saying active listening not just hearing
  4. Have other-person preservation in mind rather than a self-preservation mindset 
  5. Demonstrate empathy – this means you actually have to care


Next time you are with a current client, new client, or a friend, ask yourself if you have a surface or deep-level relationship with that person. You might find that you are actually challenged by your answer! 


Coaches Corner – Mastering the Coaching Conversation           


Hey coaches, after each of our blogs, we are going to provide a coaches corner tip. Here is my question for you today. Do you have a deep-level trusting relationship with each of your team members? Challenge yourself before you quickly answer. Here is a secret. You can’t win without your team. I’m not talking about your 1 or 2 superstars. I’m talking about the entire team. 


Now that football season is upon us, we are reminded every Sunday that one person or one play doesn’t win a game. It is more complicated than that, and we, as coaches, all know it. Do you inadvertently put your team members into “in-groups” or “out-groups” (Leader-Member Exchange Model, Graen, and Dansereau)? The reality is that we do this and sometimes it is even subconscious. Here is your challenge this season. Utilize the five steps above and have a game-changing discussion with each of your team members over the next 30-60 days. 


I guarantee you this…you will learn something new and thus begin or continue the process of building a deep-level trusting relationship with your team members. I look forward to reading your stories.       

Driving Change – Understanding Your Why!

In our training sessions at Braintrust, we often show a picture that illustrates a caterpillar going through the change to a butterfly. We will ask our participants to tell us what they are looking at. We will immediately have someone say, that is a picture of a caterpillar. Someone else will then say, it is a picture of a butterfly. Almost always, someone will then report it is a caterpillar changing to a butterfly. Then the magic word will come out – metamorphosis. I will then ask what happens when a caterpillar transforms through metamorphosis to a butterfly. Someone will respond that the butterfly “can’t go back” to the way they were before.


Have you ever had that moment when looking back on it now, you know it was a “moment” that had a significant directional impact on your life?  In 2015, I had spent 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry. At this stage of my career, I had one of those “moments” and made an unusual decision. The decision was to apply for a position within the Ph.D. program at Case Western Reserve University. You may be thinking, who in their right mind begins a Ph.D. program 25 years into their career. To be honest, I wasn’t sure. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even explain to my wife why I wanted to begin the program. All I knew is what I was about to do, not why I was going to do it. Yes, you are correct. It is unusual to invest five years of time and money into a management Ph.D. programs if you can’t explain why. I guess sometimes in life; it is possible to know “what” you’re doing without having complete clarity on “why” we are doing it.  That usually doesn’t last long, does it?  What without “why” often isn’t very sustainable.  


On August 24th, 2015, I was driving from Cincinnati to Cleveland to begin the program when I received a phone call from my brother. He asked me a question that would start to change the trajectory of my professional and personal journey. He asked a simple question, “why are you starting this journey?” After a brief conversation, I said the word transformation. The type of transformation where you don’t go back. A metamorphic change! The note that you see attached to this blog is the note that I wrote to myself at 6:00 AM on August 25, 2015 – “transformation – let the journey begin!” I have kept this note with me for the past five years.  I still didn’t have a complete picture of the end destination, but I knew that I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on others. Something that would make a difference.  

I have a question for you, “Why do you do what you do?” As a coach and professor, I have had the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours coaching and reading stories of why people do what they do. It is incredible how our “why” stories are connected to Sages that have impacted the beliefs that unfold the narratives that make us who we are. When you understand your why and the why of your team members, you begin a process that transforms your ability to both understand yourself and connect with each other on a much more meaningful level. Why then is it our default inclination is to ask people what they do rather than why they do it? The next time you sit down with someone for a cup of coffee, have a 1:1 feedback session with a colleague, make a phone call to a relative or go to a dinner party, I’d ask you to start the conversation with a question.  “Why do you do what you do”?  You will be shocked by the stories that unfold!


In my Ph.D. program, I have had the privilege of being mentored by Richard Boyatzis, Ph.D. In his recent book Helping People Change (Boyatzis/Smith/Van Oosten) that was just released by the Harvard Business Review Press, I was inspired by the definition of a coach – “facilitative or helping relationships with the purpose of achieving some type of change, learning, or new level of individual or organizational performance.” If you want to build strong relationships in business and in life, then take the time to understand the WHY of those people around you. It will begin a journey of transformation.