When my grown children started dating people some years ago, I was reminded how becoming "more than a friend" starts an emotional adventure. Peak highs from falling in love may quickly plunge into depths of misunderstanding and hurt. But after a talk, the clouds part, and happiness returns. A line from the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, summed up a common root cause -- "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
Strategic sellers and account owners contend with similar problems of not connecting with a customer or prospect. I call it, "the terrible secret" because it puts business at risk and potentially undermines business relationships. The terrible secret means that we aren't "getting" them. We might be misunderstanding their feelings, or not knowing their business situation. It could be misreading their feedback, or their silence. But in any case, it's a terrible thing to not know where you stand with a strategic customer.
As in personal relationships, the solution comes through conversation. To overcome customers holding any "terrible secrets", apply your best listening skills. This means listening more than talking, sprinkled with asking good questions. It's no cooincidence that cutting-edge sales training over the past twenty years has largely focused on asking questions. Andrew Sobel's recent blog offers a good refresher and checklist on effective listening.