Shibboleth Question

You arrive in a conference room dressed to impress. Sitting across the table is Bob and you’re trying to explain to Bob, someone you’ve never met, why this product would help him. In the middle of the explanation, he interrupts you and says:

Yeah, I know all about this field, just skip to the conclusion

QuestionPathSmDo you believe him?

You decide to trust him at his word, and skip to the end about what your product does. Now Bob starts peppering you with questions that indicate, he really knows almost nothing about this field. Your opportunity to start with a story and provide the background needed to understand why your widget is the best ever is now lost.

But, suppose you decide not to believe him and continue on anyway. Now Bob thinks you think he’s stupid. Good luck closing the sale.

Nobody wants to feel stupid, at the same time, sizing up someone’s actual competence after they claim to have perfect knowledge can be a big challenge. We need some quick ways to decide how to continue in these situations.

It reminds me of a Bible passage (Judges 12:5-6) that also appeared as a West Wing episode at one time:

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’ ” He said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. (NIV)

Okay, so in times of war, it doesn’t matter if the other person catches you in their lie. At the same time, it seems that asking several questions that side track the matter can help you assess the credentials and lead the conversation down a path that will be most fruitful.

For example, “That’s great, I’m glad to hear that. Can you help me understand some of the challenges that you see in the market?”. Every company that has to deal with this kind of situation regularly, should come up with a Shibboleth Question.







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