July 13, 2019
Beware the Hippos
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I first heard this phrase from the TedTalk "Want to Help Someone? Shut-up and Listen" by Ernesto Sirolli. This TedTalk focus' on learning that the first step to helping someone is to **listen to them**. Ernesto a specific event that involved hippos. With his small aid team, they would arrive at a new location and seek out how best to help. In fact, they would arrive to make changes. And why not - the team comes with higher education and experience. comes in with knowledge.
WATERMELONS TO THE RESCUE
During a posting in Africa, they arrived at a new area and noticed how fertile the area was to grow produce. In fact, it seemed that anything in this area grew two or three times the size of anything they had ever seen. With this understanding, the team agrees to plant watermelons near the river. They attempt to get some of the local people to assist and they decline. That seemed strange as the task wasn't hard and there was a good group of young and able men and women to help. But filled with knowledge and self-confidence they proceeded to plant the watermelons themselves. The seeds got planted -- the earth and sky cooperated and not long after that ripe watermelons grew. The team had a success! Besides having tasty watermelons they have something to teach the locals.
But the aid team was not able to harvest and enjoy the watermelons. Why? A herd of hippos trampled all the watermelons during their regular migration. Ernesto asked the villagers why they didn't tell him about the hippo migration. They provide a simple but profound response - "you never asked".
LEADING WITH RESPECT
I would recommend listening to the entire TedTalk as there is much to learn. The key lesson and focus of this post is about taking time to ask questions out of respect. Before stepping into a new situation ensure you ask questions out of respect. Doing this allows you to gain insight.
As a sales engineering professional let' acknowledge we may not know it all. This mindset ensures you pause, take time to learn by asking curious questions.
Given the training we receive in our roles we can get the sense that we are well equipped for all situations. In fact, asking questions may seem a waste of time - we have seen this before and resolved it elsewhere. If you don't know by now that isn't true - and in fact, can be very damaging.
Consider the phrase "familiarity breeds contempt". I am guilty of working with customers with that mindset. It never leads to successful customer engagements. I missed something and the competition would often win. worked with team members who believed that we had to know
There are essential best practices required to be a world-class sales engineer. One of them is respect for the customer. Drop the fear of asking what might seem like a question you should know. In the role of a sales engineer, you should know all that you can about your products and services. When it comes to our customer you may not know it all until you engage with them. This is not the same as going in unprepared. But it does mean that you can acknowledge when there is a gap. Allow your curiosity to ask questions. doing this allows a conversation to occur between you and your customer. When conversations occur you will learn about their processes, politics and culture.
As a practice where I live I don't have to worry about hippo migrations. But I do have to guard myself against believing that I know it all and fail to show respect by asking questions.
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