SPIF Tip #16: Getting Into Your Customer’s Head

customers-headSometimes getting

customers to talk is a challenge. Salespeople need to learn what is important to customers. And they need a conversation to do it. Too often, companies don’t set things up with salespeople so they can have these conversations easily. Nor do they equip their salespeople with the necessary questions and other tools to do so.

Here’s an approach that can work well:

Suppose your company offers products and services that help a manufacturer improve its energy efficiency. When you are with a prospect – preferably a manager or executive and not a junior level buyer – you might consider asking them a question like this:

“On a 1 – 5 scale, with 1 being awful and 5 being stellar, how would you rate your company’s efforts around energy efficiency?”

Now, suppose they give you a 2, or a 3 as an answer. At this point, there is a trap you must avoid. You must not start talking about how your offer could help them improve that score. In fact, you shouldn’t even ask them why they gave you that score. Instead, you should ask them this:

“Hmm. That is interesting. Why didn’t you give it a 1?”

That kind of question focuses on what they have done at least partly right so far. They get to talk about their accomplishments (which most people like to do), while also acknowledging they need to improve. You could ask lots of follow up questions to clarify what they are saying about their organization.

Then, if they still have an appetite for the conversation, you can ask them this:

“What do you think the value of doing better would be?”

Naturally, their answer to that question also presents opportunities to ask more clarifying questions. You may be surprised how long the conversation goes on, as long as you keep the focus on them.

Now, if they give you a 1, you can say something like:

“Hmm. So, then, what would it take for you guys to be ready to become a 2 instead?”

Of course if they give you a 3, or a 4, you can still ask them both of the above questions. Just substitute the topic you and your customer are concerned with for this example.

It is useful to keep questions like this in mind. They make it easier for the customer to talk about themselves. And, they enable you to learn what customers are thinking and why. They help you avoid the crutch of talking about your company, your products, and what you want to do for them.

This can “keep your powder dry” so to speak, for another day. A day when the customer is actually interested in hearing about what you do.

Do you think you might be able to use this idea?


Michael Webb

Michael Webb founded Sales Performance Consultants to create a data-driven alternative to the slogans and shallow impact offered by typical sales training, sales consulting, and CRM companies. Michael helped organize and delivered the keynote speeches for the first conferences ever held on applying Six Sigma to marketing and sales. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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