The phone rang, a sales person introduced himself asking, “Who’s in charge of credit card processing?” Whenever I don’t know the answer to those things, I say it’s me. He then went on with his pitch. With one glaring problem, the pitch was actually pretty good. He offered some insight in changes that were happening in credit card processing (as a result of legislation) that would dramatically increase processing fees. He then asked, “Have you seen big changes in your credit card processing fees?”

I replied, “No, and I’m not really interested in this conversation.” Sensing I was about to hang up, he said, “You really need to be interested in this, it’s a huge issue! I can really help you!”

I responded, “I really don’t care.” He then asked, “Was it something I did?” You know the end of this story.

The problem wasn’t what he did, it was what he didn’t do. See he never asked me about our credit card processing, he never tried to understand why I didn’t care. See, we do offer credit card payments as a convenience to our clients. In the past year, I can count the number of transactions on one hand, and the total amount was a few thousand dollars. Credit card payments are a negligible part of our business. Even if the transaction rates double, the fees we pay are so small, it’s not worth my time to worry about it. It’s simply not important to me.

This issue was clearly important and interesting to the sales person. I can imagine lots of businesses where it will be important to the business owners. I simply don’t care. The error the sales person made was that he assumed that because it was an important issue to him, it would be an important issue to me.

It’s a common mistake–not just with sales–but in many conversations. We’re driven by our own agendas and goals. We have an issue that’s important to us, usually it’s about what we sell. We’re enthusiastic, we know what we can do to help our customers. We want to make sure the customers know we can help them.

But it’s irrelevant meaningless conversation, if the customer doesn’t care. In fact it’s worse, it annoys the customer, creating negative reactions or perceptions to you and what you are offering.

So it’s critical that we determine what the customer cares about. It used to be that we could call the customer and start asking them some questions. For example, this person might have asked me, “Is accepting credit cards a big part of how you do business with your customers?” But he didn’t, he jumped right into the issues without getting some basic information to shape his comments in a way that might have been more interesting and relevant.

But it’s harder to do this, customers are busy, they have built great defenses. When someone calls and asks, “may I speak to the person responsible for……..,” we know we are getting a sales pitch.

The only thing our customers are interested in is what they are interested in. It’s our job to figure it out, then to position our solutions in the context of what they are interested in. If we don’t understand what they are interested in, we will never connect.

Do you focus on what you are interested in or what interests your customers?