Monday, January 24, 2005

GETting the Picture

I can never get over the impact of meeting that special person that can teach you in moments, what some people can’t teach you in a lifetime. My cousin once told me that when the student is ready, the master appears… and once again life and fate answered to my needs. Expecting to attend another one of those “Manipulating your client” or “Bullshit sales/sells”, my spirits were a little low on my first trip to Porto. I had no idea that I’d be attending the training lessons of my life! The one’s I’d been lacking and those I’d be investing in my future.

Forty-two with the wisdom of seventy-two and the spirit of a twenty-two year old, I wondered if my course manager was either from abroad or highly qualified in the Negotiation and Sales Techniques that he was teaching… in which case he’d have to have gone abroad in any case because no Portuguese mentality could’ve educated him with the amazing attitude that he possessed. For two days I watched and learned. Paying the utmost attention, I discovered a name and technique to the art I’d come to love: psychology and sales. They weren’t trying to teach me how to manipulate, they were teaching me how to sell.

“Everybody lives off the sale of something” – Robert Stevenson.

Because there is never a second chance to make a first good impression, we were taught how to introduce ourselves, how to plan and prepare a meeting and most importantly: how to discover your client’s interests. For only if you discover what your client needs: can you sell him what he wants. Communication: the art discovering intentions, conveying a message and making sure that both parties are understood.
We then wrote down our difficulties so that at the end we could once again look at them as solutions instead of obstacles. Taught to act instead of reacting, suddenly every situation could be changed positively and effectively. Even silence was something in which we had to be trained to manage. While we were all taught how to listen as opposed to just hearing, I imagined a group of people who seriously needed coaching in this area and then I imagined how frustratingly difficult it would be to teach some boys I knew this basic concept! A concept that the male species definitely has more difficulty grasping!

How you ask your questions, is as important as the sale itself. How else can you find out your counterpart’s interests?
Asking how they see things is what you call a neutral-open question.
If you ask them if they heard anything they liked, you’re using a less effective neutral-closed question, permitting only a yes or no answer.
You can however, turn that closed question into an influenced one when you ask the client “So you’ll be signing with us, right?”
But you’ll most probably get more successful results if you try an open-influenced question such as “So how do you think our service can benefit you”
The talent is in knowing when to use the question and only experience can perfect this skill.

So how do you wrap the deal? Well you could try the implicit conclusion: “Well then we’ll just sign these papers so I can take care of your order”
Then there’s the final question: “So will you be taking the blue or the green?”
If you’re desperate you can always try the pressure technique: “I only have one more of these in stock” but my favorite technique is definitely the triple yes method: “So to recap; this is good for you, and that’s good for you and that is what you need: so this is what you’re buying”

Life has taught me that many people will come and go in your life. There are those that only cross your path for moments and those that stay for longer, whilst others accompany you always. My mission in life has been to always leave something positive with each person I meet so that no matter how brief or lifelong our meeting is, people will always remember me with a smile. Sometimes, I forget that there are other people on this planet with a similar mission. My course trainer was without a doubt, a fresh of breath air to my life and I decided to make a point of thanking him through this column: as we often don’t know the impact we have on other people’s lives. I did muster up the courage to admit that his job is my future ambition and that I too play with the idea that someday I can live off bringing out the best in people.

It had been a long time, since I felt that someone could penetrate into my thoughts. I felt vulnerable under trained scrutiny. I even second guessed my body language, swearing at little gestures that I possess like twirling my hair with my finger when I’m extremely interested in what I’m seeing or nodding my head when I agree with what I’m listening to. Realizing that I’d been relying on my honesty and instinct to get me through life, I was glad to be taught how to keep my honesty without compromising myself personally with the client. If I was effective at driving assholes away, now even the clever ones are in for a treat!

Four candles were lit; the first one was “Peace” which was blown out by the cruelty and revolt of the people who no longer wanted it. Because people no longer wanted to believe, the second candle “Faith” was also blown out. With no more strength to keep burning, the third candle “Love” faded until also blowing out with the others. A child came in and began crying to see that the candles had been blown out when the forth and final candle said to the child: “Don’t worry child, my name is Hope and no matter how dimly I burn, I can always light the other three candles.”

Hope: something that dims when trust and faith is lost.
Beyond a course manager, I saw a man. I saw someone’s friend, someone’s father and someone’s husband and managed to pick up between the professional conversation; the moral guidelines with which this man lived in. It’s amazing what people tell us about themselves. Perhaps what impressed me the most is the fact that he regarded his wife as his girlfriend and told one of our married colleagues that even after marriage, your counterpart remains your girlfriend as well as your best friend and your wife. Clearly here was a man who understood his woman, or at least made an attempt to, without a doubt he recognized her worth and that made him different from the countless men I’ve met. For a couple of times I was tempted to tell him “You can’t be real” or “Are you sure you practice what you preach?” But that would take things personally considering I’d have to explain my question and I wasn’t about to open myself to scrutiny by someone who obviously stood on a higher psychological level. Not in the mood to hear what I already knew about myself, I instead concentrated on getting all the help I could get on a more professional level: how to avoid manipulation from your boss.

Just an hour after my course, I managed to meet two professionals at a mall who seemed as lost as I was. Within twenty minutes, I had managed to properly introduce myself and captivate enough interest to be invited to coffee. Ten minutes later I’d managed their contacts which I’d promised to give to my colleagues in the region so that they could receive a counter proposal to the competing network that they were using. That’s what I call putting to use what you learn!

I must’ve looked like an idiot, running up and down the airport looking for an electric socket. When I finally found one, I plugged my cell phone to its charger and sat on my suitcase listening to my course-manager, who from a cutting network phone call tutored me on the next most important meeting of my professional life. I kept wondering if he knew the difference he was making in my life and that the skills he had taught represented a turning point in my reality. So a decent Portuguese man exists after all (this of course ignoring the fact that he also finds our country’s system frustrating and suggested I develop my skills elsewhere, in a country that values my capacities and what I believe in.). I try to ignore the waiting period between my current peers and this example of maturity and comfort myself with the knowledge that at least there still exist honest and decent men around. (Even if it’s in their forties… and the Gay or Married rule still applies though).
When all is said and done, I marvel at the miracles, the people, the candles and the Hope that fate throws our way when the Faith inside us dies.

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