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January 2013

Surviving College Reading

I wandered across this post the other day and wanted to share it with anyone in college, or knows someone who is in college.  

I was fortunate enough to be taught the lessons in the post when I took a class in Marxist Anthropology (yes, that dates me).  We were assigned five books each week to read--and Marxist philosophy is not the most lightweight of subjects--so understanding how to get to the essence of a piece of writing was an important survival skill.

As the author of the post acknowledges, these lessons may apply more to students of social science than other subjects.  But I've used these skimming techniques ever since college, and they've served me well.

If you have favorite ways to quickly read for content, do tell in the comments!

One Simple Question

Sometimes you have to learn via experience; that was certainly the case for me. In solution selling, you're taught to focus on understanding the customer's problem. Why?

  • You need to connect with what's really bugging them, which may not be what you think.
  • You need to know that your product or service will actually help the customer solve their problem.
  • If you know what kind of pain the problem is causing, you can use this information to craft a compelling message about the value of your solution.

Sounds great! The problem is that it's so easy not to start there. It's much easier to start with your solution, your product. "Let me tell you about ___" we all want to say. That's understandable—we're excited about our product—but it's not as successful as listening first.

As I said, I had the chance to experience this during a recent sales conversation. My prospect wanted to know about Office 365, Microsoft's cloud-based mashup of Office, Exchange, SharePoint and some other cool services. As I explained what was in Office 365, my client kept focusing on SharePoint Online. She said that they had a SharePoint site that didn't work very well, especially for sharing information with partners outside her organization. As she asked question after question, I kept getting deeper and deeper into the weeds with SharePoint Online. Eventually, she suggested that SharePoint might be too complicated for her.

That normally would have been the end of the conversation; "thanks, but no thanks." Fortunately, I stopped (finally!) to think, and asked her a question: "what is the problem that you're trying to solve?" One simple question.

The prospect proceeded to say that their real issue was sharing files, especially with partner organizations. They often couldn't do this via email, because the files included audio and video content, making them too big for most email servers to process. They were using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and Secure FTP, but that required IT intervention, and my prospect was only a part-time IT administrator and didn't want to spend the time messing with FTP server management.

I had recently been checking out ShareFile from Citrix and suggested that she might want to give it a try. It didn't have all the capabilities of SharePoint Online, but it did file sharing very well, and had a very easy-to-use interface. She thought that might be a good solution.

I was able to get her set up with a trial of the service, and she quickly signed up for it. I knew her users found the service valuable because she called me a couple of times, asking me to extend the trial until she got payment and contract details sorted out.

Now I always remind myself to ask that one simple question at the beginning of every sales conversation: "what problem are you trying to solve?" It's a winner for me.

Let me know what question you've found to help the most in engaging with your customers and prospects!