So the UK furniture salesman was always a bit embarrassed that he was selling bigger chairs designed for the American market. One day a major buyer visited his stand at the NEC. “This chair looks bigger than normal,” she said, inquisitively. “Not especially,” replied the salesman. “Shame,” she said, walking away. “I was looking for a range of big chairs.”
Knowing how to sell means knowing not just the key things to get right, but also how to avoid the classic things that go wrong. This is the most misinterpreted fundamental of selling: understanding the buyer’s needs. Any sales process will tell you to start by uncovering the needs of the buyer. But it’s no good knowing the needs if you don’t respond to them and make sure you meet them.
Asking endless questions in directionless meetings infuriates the customer. Of course, you need to understand them, but uncovering needs seems to have taken over as the goal in itself. The buyer is only interested in ‘what do I have to do?’ and ‘what do I earn if I do it?’ So get to the point.
Buyers may sit through eight meetings a day. Keeping this in mind, think about those ‘look what a lot I know’ presentations. You no doubt got full marks in that training course, but is it any surprise buyers get frustrated?
So how do you find out how to meet their needs without asking? You don’t. You can’t. You just need to change the questions you ask and when you ask them. The questioning skillset has disappeared up its own backside. Remember open and closed questions, with funnelling? OK, things have moved on but this was fundamentally good. When I hear about dimensional questions and spatial questions… sorry, you’ve lost me.
Think of it like this: you either question to explore new areas, or you question to guide the meeting to your area of focus. You should ask ‘route one’ questions. These confirm known needs and identify specifics relevant to the proposal. But with this technique, remember the all-important one: “Has anything changed?”
When new to a customer, you have buyer permission to ask exploratory questions. The buyer is hoping you will have focus in future meetings as a result of this time investment. Don’t mess it up. Pick your time for exploring. The rest of the time, take route one.