There is an old saying “assume makes an ASS out of U and ME” and for good reason. Too often sales people find themselves jumping in too soon, offering premature solutions when it comes to dealing with a prospective client’s needs or priorities.
Often they begin with the best of intentions by asking some preliminary questions of the prospective client. But many sales people report finding it hard to continue asking questions when opportunities present themselves during the course of the conversation. Instead, they want to begin talking about possible options and solutions too soon.
The saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is another issue especially for the Account Manager who has a long term relationship with key clients.
So how do we put aside our need to make assumptions and really make the most of our conversations with prospective clients or existing accounts?
Making assumptions is the act of ‘taking for granted’ or ‘supposing’. Not all assumptions are problematic. You can assume when there is an accepted cause and effect relationship, or the existence of a fact from the known existence of other fact(s).
Assumptions, although useful for providing basis for action and creating “what if” scenarios to simulate different realities or possible situations, are dangerous when accepted as reality without thorough examination.
And this is what happens to sales people and might I say other people all too often.
Often sales people assume they know what the prospective client wants or needs because of past experiences with other clients or pervious history of an existing client. On average sales people report that they pick their way through a series of ‘question pit stops’ hopefully finally gathering enough complete information to cover everything the prospective client wants or needs. At worst they report that a sales person can talk over the prospective client supposedly showing them how much they know with a patronising ‘Yes I’ve heard all that before’ attitude leaving the client feeling misunderstood, disenfranchised and unheard.
I’m not suggesting that sales people do this to be rude or disrespectful. In fact many report an overzealous need to prove themselves and their worth to clients. If only they could see that asking questions and actively listening to the whole story before offering advice or solutions will save everyone time, money, frustration and heartache and make selling and buying a much better experience for everyone.
It took me a while but I have learnt to never assume in any meeting. I walk in with an ‘empty cup’ ready to be filled with my client’s content before I offer anything. Another little technique I use to stop me from interrupting and make me a much better listener, besides taking detailed notes, is to use my ‘flag system’. As I ask questions and listen to what a prospect or client needs or wants to achieve, I place a small flag beside the area I know I can help them with. This flag alerts me later on when I verify all that they have told me. It helps me to weave all the areas (assuming there is more than one) I can help them with into a complete picture. Many clients have actually expressed gratitude in hearing their needs, priorities, or wants fully understood and mapped. Once mapped, I can then work with them to map a pathway to the future.
Learning how to listen, ask questions, verify and reflect is essential to fully understanding another person’s whole situation, needs, priorities and wants. These are core life skills that serve us very well.
Might I suggest that we all take time out to practice our listening, questioning, verifying, and reflecting skills everyday with everyone we come in to contact with and see how this adds value to relationships. Imagine what the world would be like if couples, families, neighbours, communities, business and religious leaders, politicians and nations really listened to each other and did not assume or take each other for granted. I wonder where we would all be now?
Remember everybody lives by selling something.