Don’t Assume, Ask Questions

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I see sales people and business owners all the time who assume they know exactly what their prospects and clients want.  Sometimes they are right.  Sometimes not.

If you think that people aren’t biting on the bait you’re putting out because you’re not getting the words right, think again.  That may be the reason, but what if it’s not?  It always pays off to examine other possibilities.

Most people will tell you exactly what they need and are listening for if you listen carefully enough.  Sometimes I do role plays with my clients where I actually get them to sell to me and it’s really interesting watching them just make assumptions about what my needs might be rather than spending some time asking me questions.

If you believe that you listen to others, then ask yourself how often do you actually hear what’s being said in response? That is the truly important thing, because often we think we’re listening, but we actually have a conversation going on inside our head while the other person is talking, “Oh my God, he said that! I must have to bring the conversation around to this other thing,” and before I know it I’ve missed half of what he said.  

We make assumptions like this with our clients all the time – we assume what it is that they need, and what we think they want and what they should have and all that sort of thing.  And we ignore the reality that we aren’t the one that needs to get them to the point of decision – they need to get themselves there based on the things that you’re saying.

When you’re selling you’re influencing and it’s the art of influence, it’s not the art of beating others into submission.  So I use the metaphor that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, and the way people sometimes go about trying to sell to their clients, it’s like they’re dragging the horses and they’ve shoving their head in the water – drown or buy!  But a better way is to give your clients a thirst – feeding them salt so that by the time we’ve led them to the water they’re thirsty enough to drink.

If you were a Travel Agent in a situation where you’d looking to give people information about a holiday, you could make an assumption that they want to do some really great tours and that might not actually be what they’re looking for.  Some people love tours, but when I go travelling, the last thing I want to do is get on a bus with a whole bunch of people and be tied to the schedule when it’s time to go to the next place, because if I’ve seen that then I’m done and I want to move on. Or perhaps I want to stay here a little bit longer and have a look for a little bit longer, I don’t want to be on somebody else’s watch.

If you asked the right questions, you’d work this out and you might suggest some private tours which I’d probably be happy to pay more for because I would enjoy myself a lot more than if I was being dragged around.

So if you ask me. “How is it that you decided you were going to visit America this year?”

I might respond “Well, I always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, there’s something about it that just kind of draws me there.  I get caught up in the idea of going to this wondrous place and I imagine that the energy there is absolutely amazing and breath-taking and I just really want to be able to experience that.” 

That gives you the opportunity to ask more questions, “So what’s important to you about the experience, or what activities do you really want to take part in? and, Do you want to do the Grand Canyon by foot or do you want to do it by helicopter?  What sort of experience is important to you?  Have you given any thought to that?”

The chances are I’ll respond, “No, I’m really not sure, can you tell me what people do there?” Then I’m inviting you to actually give me some more information.

Now, most people would jump in there and start to do their sales pitch, but we haven’t stepped up the value, or gathered anywhere near enough information yet to be able to pitch to them, so don’t jump in too quickly.

Motivation questions are really important because I’m learning what’s really important to them about that project and getting insights that I can’t get any other way.  I can learn what information she already has, or what challenges she’s facing.

Once you’ve got information about what’s important to your client you need to demonstrate what you can do to meet those motivations.

If you ask somebody “What are the problems in your business at the moment?”  They’re usually not going to give you a direct answer.  They will probably be rather defensive, guarded and cynical about why you are asking that question.  Any answer that they do give you will probably only scrape the surface of the problem.  So if you want to uncover the problems they really want to solve you need to use indirect questions.

The answers to these questions help you to chunk down on the information because if the answer was, “I need some help.”  you need to understand how they define help.  As we discussed earlier, everyone’s language map is a little different, so this requires us to drill down and discover what the client means when he talks about ‘help’.  If I just jump in and offer what I would consider ‘help’ I might mean something completely different.

So you need to find that out from the client, because if you make an assumption about what that is then you might potentially lose out on, or you could upset the client because they might have expected ‘A’, and you’ve delivered solution ‘B’ thinking that was what they wanted. 

What this does is it helps you to identify the problems and that’s the key element of the questioning. When I have a meeting with someone, I like to take an interest in them, because I am interested in what’s important to them. If I go in and start pitching my product straight away in terms of what it could offer them, I then look like I’m trying to be interesting rather than being interested in how I can help them.

The more questions you ask before you start providing solutions, the more likely it is that your solutions will be welcomed enthusiastically.  Your client will know that you have listened to them, and will see that you understand their problem, so don’t be too quick to put them in a box and write the label – keep asking questions until you are certain that what you assumed is really true.

Meta Description:  Assumptions create misunderstanding.  Questions create clarity.  Don’t assume you know the answer, develop questions that help you find out what the answer really is.

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