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Stop Assuming You Know What the Client Wants

Sales professionals often open client conversations with the assumption that they already know why the conversation is taking place. For example, if a prospect calls you after accessing your website, you probably assume that they're interested in your offering, especially if the prospect spent a long time examining information about a particular product.

However, your assumptions can very easily be wrong. After all, you are assuming that the prospect understands whatever problem or challenge they face, and understands how your offering addresses it. But the prospect could just as easily be confused and have spent time looking at a product that has nothing whatsoever to do with their real needs.

When you're having that first conversation, don't assume anything. Open the conversation with a question that helps you find out why the client wants to, or agreed to talk to you. Here are some examples:

  • Why are we talking?
  • What is the most important thing we should be talking about?
  • What's on top of your agenda today?
You may be surprised to discover that your assumptions about the client's needs and desires are quite different than what's really going on... even if the meeting is a result of an apparent interest in your firm's offering.

Once you've calibrated what the conversation is really about, you're in a better position to come up with a solution that makes sense. You can also save yourself valuable time by avoiding giving your time to somebody who isn't really a candidate to buy what you're selling.

Here's a real life example. I recently went car shopping online, and started by accessing a bunch of websites. Every single salesperson who contacted me as a result assumed that I knew what vehicle I wanted, just because had inquired about a certain vehicle. Not one thought to ask even simple questions like:

  • What kind of car do you have now?
  • Why are you thinking of purchasing a new car?
  • How many people will generally travel in it?
Eventually, I was able to think it all through and make a decision, but the salespeople were only distractions and annoyances. If somebody had taken me by the hand, I could have gotten there more quickly and she would have gotten the sale.

Want to sell more? Then start asking questions that don't make assumptions. Then turn up the gain control on your ears and listen, before you start talking.

The above is based on a conversation with Susan Scott, author of the best-selling and abundantly titled book, Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time and Fierce Leadership: An Alternative to the Worst "Best" Practices of Business Today.
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