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Opening-Up the Untalkative Buyer

Picture yourself about to conduct a win/loss interview. You have a list of thoughtful, engaging questions in front of you, a page of notes, and (hopefully!) a fresh cup of pour over. You’ve done your research – you know the company you’re about to interview inside-out, and you know what type of insights you need to make this call a success. You phone your interviewee and - after introductions - you launch right in on your first thoughtful question – and the interviewee responds:


Would you care to elaborate


But you say it was a difficult sales process?


In what way?

“Just was, y’know.”

Uh-oh. This is who we call the laconic customer, or untalkative buyer, and it is something every interviewer dreads. What you want from a good win/loss interview is an ocean of data – but the way it’s looking, you won’t fill a shot glass. If your interviewee isn’t the talkative type, you’re going to have to change how you approach the interview - and work extra hard to get the insights you need.

The Untalkative Buyer

Un-talkative vs Uncommunicative

When the interviewee isn’t forthcoming with their information, the first thing is finding out whether they are untalkative or uncommunicative. The former is someone who doesn’t mince words: they would rather use one instead of fifty. The latter, however, is deliberately withholding information. They might even be a bad news call, someone for who the sales process went pretty badly. Luckily for you, angry people usually want to vent – It’s not that they don’t talk, it’s that they resent having to talk. If you can improve their disposition towards you, they’ll open-up in no time - all you have to do is demonstrate to them that it’s okay to be angry, that you are there to listen, and that they should feel free to speak what is on their mind. If the interviewee is untalkative, however, that’s a different problem – and that’s where things get more difficult.

It’s important when talking with laconic interviewees to not speak for them. Your interviewee is an adult: they know their own mind, and just because they are reticent to open up about it doesn’t mean you can start ‘clarifying’ their thoughts for them. When someone doesn’t talk much – when they leave a lot of gaps in their answers, giving only a ‘yes’ when you wanted ‘yes because…’ it can be tempting to speculate what that ‘because’ might be. But win/loss analysis should only focus on the truths, it is not a venue for wild imaginings, no matter how reasonable or logical they seem.

Objection: Badgering The Witness

Beware, too, of asking leading questions of an naturally untalkative buyer. In an effort to try and get as much info out of them as you can, you run the danger of crafting a false narrative. For example: you ask a question of your laconic interviewee:

You: “Would you say you bought this product because Company X didn’t do Y?”

Interviewee: “No.”

You: “So you’d say you bought this product because Company X did do Y.”

Interviewee: “Eh.”

You wait, hoping the interviewee will clarify – but they don’t. Later, when it comes time for analysis, you confidently claim that the interviewee bought the product because Company X did do Y. But you don’t know for certain. Their answer was ambiguous, so you’ve shaped the leading question into a reasonable-sounding, but not actually confirmed, “insight.” An insight that is no insight at all. You could write a novel extrapolated from what the interviewee didn’t say – but you shouldn’t. Avoid distorting a laconic interviewee’s words, and dot add shades of meaning where there are none. Your win/loss analysis needs to be comprised of facts, not a cunning work of mistruths.

Let Me Tell You Why This Matters

The best you can do when confronted with a laconic interviewee is to win them over to your cause. Without badgering them, and without sounding like you are criticizing their answers, stress the importance of getting just the facts. You’re an archivist, a researcher, a fact-finder – it’s important that the story of the sale be at the forefront, and that the successes and failures of the process be the driving force behind what you’re doing. If the laconic interviewee should be convinced of anything, it’s that what they are saying matters – and that being as clear and expansive as possible is in everyone’s best interests. If they don’t talk, if they just let their one-and-two-word answers go unexpanded and unexplored, they run the risk of being misrepresented, misunderstood, or dismissed. Make the interviewee aware of their own importance,so they know that their contributions are valuable and valued. Show them that it is worth talking a little bit morel.

Where You Go From Here

Now that you know a little more about laconic buyers, it’s time to look at your current approach to interviewing. Do you have techniques that help loosen-up untalkative people, or are you a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type? If you’re the latter, it might be time to reconsider your approach. You need to think about ways to lower an interviewee’s defences – and make them more willing to talk to you. Look back on past interviews – did you let valuable insights slip through your fingers because you weren’t sure how to get them to talk?

Think about what you can do in the future to better reach your interviewees. You should also review some of your analyses – have you ever made conclusions based on what the interviewee didn’t say? Did you present theories, or did you present stated facts? Consider how you approach such questions in the future – you may need to reign in your speculation a little bit. Remember: your job as interviewer is to gather and present the facts as the interviewee told you. If they’re not willing to talk as much as you would like, learn the techniques to do better next time.

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