Gina is a super smart twenty-six year old. She just got her doctorate from Yale University. She wrote her doctorate thesis on the market evolution of a cutting edge tech product.

Ultimately, Gina sees herself in academia, but she’s taken a sales job with an established high-flying tech startup that produces the product she did her thesis on. She wants to put some equity in the bank first.

Gina is about to meet with Arlen, the sixty-six year old CEO of a venerable family business based in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s her first trip to the deep South.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting nervous for Gina.

Credibility Requires a Plan

What are the dynamics that might impact Gina’s ability to have a useful meeting with Arlen? She needs a plan.

If a person walked up to you on the street and asked you to describe your last bowel movement, you probably would look at them like they were crazy. But if your doctor asked you the same question, you’d be willing to do so. Why? Because, your doctor has credibility. You have faith that the information you transmit to him or her might end up being useful to you.

A key question for Gina, is ‘does she have credibility with Arlen’?

Before Gina walks into her meeting with Arlen, she has to ask herself. “Am I more like the doctor to Arlen, or am I more like the person on the street?” If it’s the latter, Arlen might not view Gina as credible at the start of the meeting. He might play things a little close to the vest. He might not tell Gina much about his company and its challenges right away. Gina might get questions as responses to her questions. Arlen might say things like…

“First, tell me more about what you do?”

“I’ve been in this business for over forty years. Why should we work with you?”

“We have relationships that go back decades, why should we change?”

“Now tell me. Is this your first time in Mississippi?”

Credibility is a Threshold Issue

You’re not going to get anywhere if your client doesn’t have enough confidence in you to answer the questions you ask. Usually, you need to do something to establish that confidence, and then confirm that you have it before you start asking tough questions.

This seems obvious, but the reason credibility is so often overlooked is because much of the time you already have it. When your potential client said yes to your request for a meeting, they granted it to you. Perhaps, you were introduced to your client by someone they respect. Perhaps they contacted you. Maybe you’ve already illustrated your capacity to be useful. An important aspect of credibility for a salesperson, is being aware when you don’t have it with someone.

Three Ways to Cross the Credibility Threshold

In Never Be Closing, we present eight ways to cross the credibility threshold. For someone like Gina with Arlen, there are three that are most likely to help.

  1. A referral. Gina, in her research studies, may have met and impressed some people who have standing in the industry who know Arlen. An email or a message from a shared contact extolling Gina and her research might be enough to open the professional disclosure door.
  2. Some cogent industry commentary. Gina wrote a thesis on the industry. She probably has some information, data, or conclusions that Arlen hasn’t yet seen or considered. Gina could start a dialog around an industry topic and interest Arlen in her thinking or research. She could create a presentation with data and analysis that she thinks might be useful to Arlen, and use it as a sounding board, a conversation starter for Arlen’s reactions. Gina needs Arlen to begin to offer his impressions and thoughts related to Gina’s presentation.
  3. A presentation is also a mechanism for taking the lead on the process of the meeting. And demonstrating a professional meeting process is a good way for a young or novice salesperson to establish credibility. Being overt about your process (this means you need to have a process and be able to cogently communicate it) is useful for novice salespeople.

And Gina, if you have an interest in college football, you might want to check recent scores and upcoming SEC matchups. (Especially this year, as both Ole Miss and Mississippi State are at the top of the national rankings.)

Good luck Gina!

The ideas in this post are from Tim’s book Never Be Closing.

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