Many sales reps have convinced themselves (and try to convince others) that their “communication” skills are exceptional. These folks are hired for their outgoing personalities and infamous gift of gab. They are fun to be around and are great at telling stories. I’m just not convinced they’re very good at connecting and creating real dialogue.
Talking comes easily for most sales reps, but getting others to listen is a bigger challenge— and a critical element to your long-term success.
Talk about what you’re interested in and your customer quickly loses interest. Their eyes turn dull as the conversation turns towards budget, timeframe or decision-making process. These topics may be of great interest to you, but not to your customer. They have problems to solve and that’s the primary reason you’ve been invited to the conversation.
Experience tells me customers want you to understand … customers want you to care … customers want you to help. And it’s impossible to understand, care, or help unless you you’ve asked the right questions.
Asking better questions sounds easy enough – but there are many obstacles that get in the way. Here are the three most common “traps” I see reps fall into:
“I can’t ask lots of questions because I’ll look stupid or uncertain.”
Get over it! Trust me — the sales world could use a lot more humility. If the customer says something you don’t understand, ask them about it. It demonstrates that you’re truly listening and not just waiting anxiously to make more statements. I’ve always believed that the more you get them to talk, the better they end up liking you. Be genuinely interested, ask more questions and watch the dynamics of your interactions begin to change.
“Busy customers just don’t have time to answer questions.”
There is always enough time … even if you only have 10 minutes. What are the chances that you can talk for 10 minutes and all your ideas will be on target and accepted? Why not demonstrate your expertise and competence by asking well thought out, stimulating questions that get them to think in new ways?
“But wait!” you scream. “What if they insist that I just do my pitch?” Then politely share your concern that a generic presentation might not hold as much value for them. Let them know other clients prefer hearing tailored ideas rather than the standard 10 minutes of marketing fluff. Asking a few key (and POWERFUL) questions lets you diagnose before prescribing and ensures that you maximize the value of their time. If they still resist, then you need to ask yourself if this is the kind of customer that you really want to develop a relationship with.
“I didn’t prepare.”
This is the number one reason why most sales people fail to ask great questions. Without proper preparation you are choosing to wing it, and when you wing it you ask narrow, mind-numbing questions.
Don’t believe me? Set a recorder on your desk and capture your voice during a customer phone call. Play it back and analyze how much time you spent making statements versus listening (dead air is the goal!). Then pay particular attention to the quantity and quality of questions you asked. Are they open or closed? Did your questions get the customer to think differently or were they the same questions every other rep has asked them? Did they explore need, budget and timeframe, or were they designed to stimulate thinking around your specific benefits?
Asking great questions is a skill that top performers master. They refine their questions every week and benefit from increased insight, opportunity and bottom line sales.
It takes courage to admit you could be a better sales rep and confidence to believe you can change; it takes nothing to create excuses.
Speaking of Sales is about finding, winning and keeping customers for life. If that’s part of your job, then you won’t want to miss the next issue.