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Are You Answering the Right Question?

By: Dave Brock


I’m occasionally amused by some of the comments and responses my blog posts provoke.  Not long ago, I published a post, The Best Sales Person I’ve Ever Known.

In the post, I basically said this was a meaningless question. The answer depended on a huge number of things, which until defined would produce a meaningless answer. Even then, it would be individually based, and someone else’s experience of that “best” sales person would be completely different.
Yet, an amazing number of people, whether on LinkedIn, or email, sent me the names of the best sales person they ever met. Clearly, they hadn’t taken the time to read the article. They were responding to what they thought the article was about—a search for the best sales person, rather than what it really was about. In the process, they made themselves look a little silly to everyone else who had read the article and saw their responses.
This is probably the single biggest mistake I see sales people make. They aren’t answering the right question. They aren’t really listening to what the customer is saying, but responding to what they think the customer is saying, or what they want to say as sales people.
We know the latter case very well. It usually comes from some sales person deftly poising questions, trying to provoke a specific response—a word, a phrase. They immediately leap onto that, turning a conversation into a monologue in which they talk about what they wanted to talk about—their products, rather than what the customer wanted to talk about.
The former case is also familiar. We ask questions, perhaps we hear what we want to hear, or we think we hear what the customer is saying. Rather than pausing, probing, reframing, we answer. Too often because we have failed to understand, we answer the wrong question. The one we thought they asked, not the one they really were asking.
It’s no wonder customers are frustrated.  It’s no wonder any number of customer surveys come back with responses like, “They don’t understand my needs, They don’t listen, They don’t take the time to understand what we are trying to do, They don’t care about what I want, They only talk about what they want to talk about.”
Questions have another tremendous power. They enable the customer to consider different things. They get the customer to think about things they may have never considered before, to shift their beliefs, attitudes and opinions. Questions open minds and conversations.
Questions and deep understanding of the customer are the most powerful tools we have as sales people. Properly used, they align us and build a bond with customers. Properly used, the customer tells us exactly what they want to do and why, what they think of us and the competition, what it takes to win the business.
Yet we don’t take the time to discover this. Instead, we rush, we guess, we answer what we want to answer, never connecting with the customer, never answering what they want and need.
Are you asking the right questions? Are you probing, reframing, even challenging to make sure you understand what they really are saying—even going beyond the words they use?
It’s probably the single biggest thing you can do to improve your customers’ results as well as yours.
This article was originally published by Partners in Excellence
Published: December 11, 2014

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Dave Brock

Dave Brock is the founder of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a consulting and services company helping to improve the effectiveness of business professionals with strategy development, organizational planning, and implementation. Dave has spent his career working for and with high performance organizations, ranging from the Fortune 25 to startups, including companies such as IBM, HP, Nokia, AT&T, Microsoft, General Electric, and many, many more. The work Dave does with business strategies is closely tied to personal effectiveness of the people in the organization. As a result, Dave is deeply involved in the development of a number of training and coaching programs.

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