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Asking The Obvious

by Doug Davidoff | Jul 13, 2010 10:12:19 AM

Let me share what, in hindsight, is an obvious lesson.  People work to solve their problems with or without you.  Further, people (and customers) don’t typically think that much about you (or sellers) when figuring out what to do.

I was reminded of this lesson recently while conducting a sales briefing for a client’s sales team.  We were introducing a new tool designed to support deeper conversation and problem discovery.  We asked for some examples of how the reps could use it and one brought up how he’d asked a question related to the tool that he thought was pretty obvious.

He was surprised to learn that the customer had just begun an initiative that he could support.  He’d become aware of it just in time to be able to enter into discussion about how his company could support the initiative (which will lead to a meaningful increase in both volume and margin).  Had he not asked, the customer would have proceeded with their idea and he would have had no chance to get the additional business (and it would have caused his existing business to become vulnerable to competitors).  The rep mentioned to me that he had no idea that such initiatives were even being discussed, let alone acted upon.

There’s an old phrase about assuming that I don’t need to repeat.  A great salesperson is always asking “obvious” questions of customers to assure that nothing is taking place that they don’t know about.  Because they’ve made The Shift to selling results, they’ve got the ability to ask revealing questions and, more importantly, to get them answered.

Great sellers realize that it is the sellers’ job to understand the customer and the customer’s needs better than anyone – even the customer themselves; not the customer’s job to understand what the seller is capable of doing.  Great sellers realize that the key to radical differentiation is their expertise in the customer’s problems (rather than the seller’s solution) and their ability to diagnose those problems in such a way that the seller’s solution becomes the obvious cure.

So, the next time you hesitate to ask a question that seems obvious, remember that the failure to ask that question can cost you your indispensability.