Lateral Thinking Can Increase the Value of Customer Conversations

Charles Brennan Jr.

In a recent survey of directors of training, they were asked the following question: “What is the percentage of sales calls that are conducted by your representatives that achieve a level of critical thinking?” Their answers ranged from a low of 5 percent to a high of 20 percent. The average was around 15 percent. Why should this be concerning?

To change the outcome of a sales call, the topic of lateral thinking can be a solution.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is loosely defined as solving a problem by an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light. It is taking a problem and addressing it with the re-arrangement of information or responses.

In the book “Lateral Thinking” by Edward DeBono, the author states that individuals speak with patterns and codes, they say the same things day in and out. He also suggests that people with short attention spans, resort to pre-set patterns or biases. What is the likelihood of a customer or client having a short attention span when it comes to speaking with a sales person?

DeBono goes on to explain, technically, when people have a limited attention span, they only activate a limited amount of their memory surface during short interactions; therefore, they maintain their preset memories or biases.

Why This Is Important

According to the principles of lateral thinking, if a conversation between two individuals does not obtain a level of critical thought, the chance for getting that person to do something different is limited. In other words, the customer’s mindset or habits will not change. In addition, if the customer does not find the conversation relevant or stimulating, the time spent is considered wasted, access will be diminished and value is reduced

Are only 15 percent of typical sales calls effective?

In baseball, a player who hits over 30 out of a 100 is considered a star. A player who hits only 15 out of a 100 is unemployed.

Vertical vs. Lateral

Most people are vertical thinkers. They seek the correct answer every step of the way. Of course, that makes total sense. They don’t want to make a mistake. They follow the patterns they have learned throughout their career.

However, if you re-arrange the way information or questions are presented to them, you can get them to think differently. You could be on the road to breaking their patterns, habits and pre-set memories.

If were you to ask a friend, family member or colleague, the following question, what do you think their response would be? For example, “If your middle child or last born was of a different sex, what would you have named that child? “How would that have changed your life? “Or, “If you relocated to a different city when you were younger or attended a different school, how do you think that would have impacted your life and what you are doing now?”

These questions are getting the person to reconsider their choices in a non-threatening way. Getting the customer (prospective or existing) to reconsider what they do in their hectic business world can be a challenge. Changing their viewpoints and perspectives is essential to initiate change.
Getting the additional 15 percent requires a different approach, presenting things in a different way, asking questions in a more engaging, less predictable fashion.
Charles Brennan is the president of Brennan Sales Institute, a provider of advanced and strategic sales training.