There’s an old Maine story that goes like this….
A city dweller pulls up to a rural Maine country store in his fancy sports car. He sees an old fella sitting in a rocker on the stoop of the store, whittling wood, rocking back and forth, and smoking a pipe. At his feet was a big brown dog. City dweller puts down his window and yells out…”hey there, your dog bite?” The old guy replies “nope”. So, city dweller confidently opens the door and heads to the store. He no sooner takes one step up onto the stoop when the big brown dog lunges forward and bites his leg, shredding his pants. Panicked and bloodied he rushes back to the car, slamming the door. Angrily he rolls down the window and shouts “Hey man, what the heck? I thought you said your dog don’t bite.” Old man replies “Whelp, mine don’t…, but that one does.”
Two lessons I will always remember from this story. I have applied both to my sales career and they have both served me well. I will now give them to you. First, make no assumptions. Second, ask the question you really want the answer to.
Make no assumptions: People make assumptions because they create a story in their head of the situation and they apply their own bias or frame of reference to the current situation. This is a rookie mistake and it can bite you later (sorry, I had to). It doesn’t matter what you thought, what you would have done, or what you have seen in your career. It’s about your prospect or customer. It’s about what they are experiencing, it’s their frame of reference, their situation. It is your job as a salesperson to get them to say it and tell you about it. If you try to propose a solution without knowing your customers reality, you run huge risk. Assume nothing. Validate assumptions. In fact, this is one of the best ways to prepare for an appointment. Write down a list of things you think you know and then use the list to generate a conversation with your prospect or customer.
Ask the questions you really want the answer to: Salespeople sometimes waste a tremendous amount of time (and prospect patience) by asking time wasting questions that will have zero relevance to the actual outcome or solution. Particularly, questions around the competition come to mind. I have heard many salespeople ask “Tell me a little about what your current provider does well” or “If you had a magic wand, what would you change about the product/service you’re getting now?” Completely unproductive! These questions only help you position yourself against a competitor, they will not help you get a deal. Knowing what your competition provides and knowing what they charge is only relevant if you are selling a commodity or aspire to be the low price provider. Asking stuff like this can actually bring your margins down because once the client figures out you think you’re competing, they will try to differentiate by price. What you really want to know is ‘how to help your client’, isn’t it? Then ask questions that get to that. ‘Tell me about your current process.” “Does it work the way you want?” “How would you change it?” “What happens when it works well or when it doesn’t?” “What is the impact to your business?” “What is the impact to you and your team?” Questions like these will help you uncover real business issues and will help you identify a solution that will actually help your client.
Being able to do thorough discovery with a client is a gift. It is time that should not be wasted. It is not your story to tell. It is an opportunity for your customer/prospect to tell their story to someone that can help solve real business issues.
Be that person.
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Ideas, comments, and questions are always welcomed! Happy Selling!