There were times in the past when I was able to listen to a caller on the phone, understand what he wanted, and recommend something else. One that I used to get a lot in the early days of Palo Alto Software was where the customer wanted accounting, not planning.

“No, Business Plan Pro doesn’t do that. You probably want QuickBooks, by Intuit, but you might prefer Microsoft Money or something by Sage or Xero. I suggest you call your bank, and get whichever one the bank will interact with.”

I was reminded of this just this morning by Seth Godin’s post How to Lose:

It seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity to be a statesman. This is when you earn the right to be seen as a trusted advisor, not a self-interested shill. Two months or two years from now, when you interact with that person or organization again, they’ll remember that you were the one who spoke up on behalf of the competition, the one who helped them find a better fit, the clearly disinterested advisor who helped them choose between the two remaining good choices.

I think that says it very well. You tell a caller on the phone that you don’t have what she wants exactly, but you know who does, and you give her that phone number. Does that sound crazy? Not really. At that moment, three things have happened:

  1. You’ve listened to the person on the phone, understanding her needs. That’s really important in selling.
  2. You’ve reinforced your strategic focus.
  3. You’ve sent that core message to a person who now likes you and, when her needs match your offering, might be back.

And that, like knowing your competition, and knowing your ideal customer, is good business.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.