When Confusion Is Good

By Lain Ehmann

When you see yourself as an expert on your product, customer, and market, the last place you want to find yourself is in a state of confusion. But, says Neil Binder, author ofThe Art of Selling: A Scientific Approach, confusion isn’t such a bad spot to be in. In fact, allowing yourself to become confused is a sign that you’re open to new information – one of the hallmarks of a good salesperson.

For example, you’re deep in conversation with a customer when she says something you just don’t agree with. Maybe it’s a comment on the future of the market or an opinion about a competitor’s product. The automatic response, says Binder, is to negate what the customer said and to try to convince her of the accuracy of your expert point of view. But instead of swaying the customer, “you’ve automatically created a point of separation,” says Binder – a separation that could damage your relationship and cost you the sale.

This is where confusion comes in. When presented with conflicting information, you’re much better off adopting a position of confusion rather than confrontation. When you allow yourself to become confused, explains Binder, “it means you’re making a decision to incorporate other information” into your knowledge base. By accepting additional information, even if it’s contrary to opinions you’ve already formed or facts you already know to be true, you’re accepting the validity of the customer’s viewpoint. This openness is the basis for respect and allows a stronger relationship to be forged.

To put this new philosophy into practice, you’d answer that confusion-creating comment with “You’re right, and…,” not “You’re wrong because…” This simple switch creates a feeling of inclusion, or openness, rather than exclusion, or defensiveness. When customers are on the defensive, they’re not going to be open to your knowledge, however enriching it may be, says Binder.

“People do not respect that the customer’s point of view is correct,” says Binder. “The problem with our salespeople is they look at what the customer says as wrong.” This I’m-the-expert attitude discounts the fact that in each person’s universe, he or she is the one in the right. If you want to sell successfully, you have to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.