Greeks invented the democracy. And they had an interesting way of voting. They used beans. A white bean was a vote in favour of a motion, a black bean was a vote against. The vote had to be unanimous for the motion to go through. So should the jar with the bean topples and the beans fall down, revealing a black bean, it meant something had been revealed too early and the vote had to restart. Hence the expression spilling the beans…


Well, nearly…

This expression might not be entirely due to the Greek way of voting (it isn’t). But spilling the beans certainly applies to how we sale. And how we, sales people, love to share product knowledge when we should hold back.

Picture this simplistic scenario:

A white good sales professional, let’s call him Tom, sees a couple looking after fridges. They are looking with a big smile and, to a degree, some envy at a superb new fridge. The american type, with double doors, ice making geezmo outside, etc… Feeling a good prospect, Tom walks towards them.

“Morning Madam, morning Sir. My name is Tom, can I help?”.

“Sure, we are after a new fridge.”

“Great, I see this indeed. This is a nice fridge, isn’t it?”

“Rather so. It’s big too.”

“Indeed. A very large fridge, capacity 200 litres, one of our most popular. It has also the ability to have that freezer compartment turned into a normal fridge area should you need to, adding 50 litres. What do you think?”

“Well, this is a nice one indeed, rather like the “Dream fridge…”.

“Indeed, many people do say this. A great fridge for big families with children!” (says Tom feeling the sale coming along nicely).

“…. but sadly we actually can’t afford a large fridge as we haven’t got the financial means. Oh and we don’t have children actually”.

Booom! The beans have been spilled too early

What happened here? Well, Tom spilled the beans and shot himself in the arm. He went on and on (relatively, it’s a fridge!) about the fridge and how popular it was. Turned out he marketed (he wasn’t selling) something people could not afford. He went to talk about the stuff he knew, he put his happy ears on when he heard “Rather so. And big too”. He took “big” as a positive message. It wasn’t…

We’ve moved away from white and black beans used in the Greek democracy but it would seem we still are spilling the beans with great eagerness. The example of a white fridge sales person might well be simplistic but can easily be seen in more advanced, technology industry.

Here’s the key take away.

Yes, product knowledge is important. And prospects need to gather it to make up their mind. But it’s also important to provide product knowledge once the situation of the prospect is understood, the context which led to the conversation also clarified. A successful business relationship (ie a sale), is about understanding the prospect situation then delivering the information that is relevant to addressing his or her pain. And, in a way, it could even be coming up with the answer: “actually, based on what you are saying, I fear we might not be the right organisation to help you”.

Sharing product specific information (be it demo or a pitch) is coming at the end of a solid discussion that aims at understanding the issues at hand (I share views on this here ). Hence the need to lead a sales process with questions.

So, Tom could have started with something like:

“Morning Madam, morning Sir. My name is Tom, can I help?”.

“Sure, we are after a new fridge.”

“Great, I see you are looking at this fridge. Any specific reason?”

“Well, it is a rather nice fridge actually.”

“Sure, many people say this but why are you saying this? And is it the type of fridge you are looking for or are there other fridge that are of interest? I am conscious we might or might not be able to have the right fridge. Can you share what makes you look at a fridge today?”.

Voila! It isn’t easy as it is natural to get excited when we see an opportunity forming up. But now, Tom isn’t getting excited by the phrase “nice fridge”, hasn’t got “happy ears” and isn’t spilling the beans at the first opportunity…