Simple Habits for Sales Success: Ask. Listen, Understand

What are the characteristics of the best sales people that have served you?  The best sales person could be a supplier you work with, the person down the street that runs the bike shop you go to, or maybe the trainer at your gym.

When I ask this question, I often hear things like:

  • “They really understand what I needed…”
  • “What they suggested was perfect for me…”
  • “My go-to sales person doesn’t just push their service. They help solve my problems…”

The consistent theme is the sales person understands their client’s challenges, issues, and critical needs, and can suggest how their product or service can address– functionally and emotionally – the client’s situation.  How does this happen?

Somewhere along the way, the sales person has grown intimate with the client’s situation as it relates to their products and services.  They have taken the time explore with the client what’s prompted the client to engage in discussion with them, and get to the “reason behind the reason”.

Let’s play this out in a typical client / sales interaction:

Sales: “I appreciate your time in meeting. How can I help you today?”
Client: “I am considering a widget for my business”
Sales: “Well, we have some of the best widgets out there.  We recently re-engineered our entire widget line, incorporating the latest technology in design and manufacturing….”

(Goes on for a few minutes, Client’s eyes glaze over, call is done, no next steps, no sale)

Now, let’s get to the “reason behind the reason”:

Sales “I appreciate your time in meeting. How can I help you today?”
Client “I am considering a widget for my business”
Sales “Really.  What is prompting you to consider a widget?”
Client “My business is growing, and my current widget is just not supporting the growth.”
Sales “I see.  How does this get reflected in your business?”
Client “Well, it causes rework and delays service to our customers.”
Sales “What happens then?”
Client “We end up either working overtime or apologizing to our customers.  Just the other day I had to meet with a customer to smooth things over..”
(More questions on the why and what’s happening with the Client)
Sales “It sounds like if you had a widget that can adapt your business, it might be important to you”
Client “It certainly would!”
(Discussions on clarifying on what the right widget would do and how it might work) 

In these rather simple examples,  it’s evident that in the second discussion, the sales person has a deeper understanding of the client’s situation, and can more effectively present their product or service to align with the client’s needs.  And, it is much more likely that this proposal will result in a sale.

Too often, sales people fail to ask the next question, to gain clarity, to discover the “reason behind the reason” when talking to a client or prospect.  The default to features, benefits, and price, devaluing the client relationship and, worse, letting the client decide assess on their own how well the offering fits their needs.

Even in a commoditized market of products and services, the client will favor the sales person who demonstrates a deeper understanding of their situation, the reason behind the reason for the potential purchase. At the same time, the sales person can present their offering in a manner that aligns best with the client’s situation and needs.

How to do this?  There exists a plethora of books, videos, and even full training courses that discuss the topic.  Search the web on “Questioning Techniques for Sales”.

(Personally, I’ve always listened to “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross on NPR and watched old episodes of “Columbo” for inspiration in questioning techiques!)

Your mission, as a sales person, is to understand not only the stated need, but the underlying need and motivation for the client to take action, “the reason behind the reason”, in order to demonstrate how your product or service aligns with them.

Try it, and see the impact on your close ratio.