Article: The Curse of Knowledge

Harvard Business Review:

When a tapper taps, it is impossible for her to avoid hearing the tune playing along to her taps. Meanwhile, all the listener can hear is a kind of bizarre Morse code. Yet the tappers were flabbergasted by how hard the listeners had to work to pick up the tune.

The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.

In the business world, managers and employees, marketers and customers, corporate headquarters and the front line, all rely on ongoing communication but suffer from enormous information imbalances, just like the tappers and listeners.

This idea is strongly applicable in sales. In order to be successful, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person you'll be meeting with, understand their unique perspective on the world, and only then try and help them assess whether what you have to offer may fit in their picture.

In addition to this, developing a deep understanding of your prospect's needs lets you engage in a very potent sales tool, negative reverse selling, much more effectively:

- You:"I'm not sure whether what I just told you about [your specific solution] may help you fix some of the issues you're experiencing..."
- Prospect: "Well, actually I think it would help us quite a bit with our problems in [area of concern you were discussing earlier]."

When doing this, you help your prospect convince themselves that your solution can and will be valuable to them. You help them build their own case for using your solution, which will also make a rollout easier down the road since they'll be able to clearly explain to other people in their organization why your solution is worth investing in, in their specific context.

Of course, this approach can only work if you're confident that the issue you raised was an actual issue experienced by your prospect... which was the exact point why you needed to get into their shoes.