The So-Called Expert
By Tim Searcy
Nothing beats the real world for reminders about sales process challenges. During a recent seminar when I asked people to name members of the Buyer’s Table, a participant chimed in with, “The idiot who thinks he knows everything and for some reason, everyone in the client company listens to him.” Of course, when we push down on this type of person just a little bit, we realize that they are the smartest kid in the remedial class. The rest of the firm turns to the only light of information they have and trust . . . one of their own. As the smartest person the client knows on the topic in question, they are trusted implicitly and completely. For this reason, the one-eyed man in the land of the blind really is king, and we better know what to do about him. We can:
1. Eliminate the expert from consideration. This almost never works unless your champion has always suspected that the expert was not that knowledgeable. Be very careful. An expert enjoys protected class status, and the attempt to eliminate them by showing them up can have consequences. The expert is on site or in the firm, and has relationships both professional and personal. The “nobody picks on my sister but me” mentality can take over and you will be shut out.
2. Ignore the expert. Sometimes this is wisest. Until you know the lay of the land, simply treat the expert as another member of the buyer’s table. Their questions and comment have equal merit and weight as everyone else, BUT NO MORE than anyone else. This play works well if you can keep the expert looking informed but not smart. It is advantageous to agree that the expert from their team in knowledgeable, but that the expertise exists in your team.
3. You can marginalize the expert. This involves creating clear boundaries for where the expert’s knowledge ends. In this way, the individual can feel validated about their knowledge and can even receive compliments from you while at the same time, their potential impact on the overall process can be minimize.
4. Engage the expert. This solution is fraught with peril. To engage the expert is to let their opinion dominate the dialog. Unless the expert is your firm advocate AND clearly has the ear of the polar bear, this individual can become dictatorial from your endorsement of their knowledge. If you choose to engage the expert, you must educate them from their current point of information until they actually do achieve expert status. In this way, you solidify their power base and at the same time make yourself indispensable to their future role.
5. Convert the expert. This strategy is for the expert that has clearly chosen a different solution or has “seen it all”, and just knows that your solution is not going to be effective. Instead of coercion or conversion, it is best to attempt collaboration. In this scenario, bring the expert closer, and ask lots of questions. Provide no statements or rebuttals until all of the thoughts are out on the table. Use questions to encourage the expert to move to your way of thinking.
The experts often rely on their role as expert. They are not easily replaced or eliminated, and although their true knowledge of the subject matter may be limited, their knowledge of the organization is greater than yours. Craft a strategy that puts the expert inside your circle managing the decision making process with you instead of outside your circle directing the process towards you.