Years ago, when I was in high school, we did a short unit on Philosophy. You’ll have to forgive me for not remembering which class included this unit – high school was quite awhile ago. In any case, the teacher began the unit with an anecdote that, for him, summed up philosophy. As part of a college philosophy class, the instructor brought the class in for the final, and told them that the final was one question, written on the blackboard. The question was, “Why?” The students began writing furiously, some filling page after page with verbiage answering the question, “Why?” One student quickly finished and left. When the grades were posted, this one student received the only “A” in the class. His answer? One word – “Because.”
I recount this story because it’s funny, and as they say, if it isn’t true, it ought to be. I also recount this story because it seems to me that the most important questions in professional selling are the ones that begin with the word, “Why?” Not coincidentally, these are also some of the questions that frighten salespeople the most (because they’re scared of the answer). They shouldn’t. Being a true professional salesperson entails a thorough knowledge of one’s products, one’s customers, and oneself. It also entails a level of intellectual curiosity that demands that questions be asked and answered; questions unasked can never uncover a need or a buying motive. With that, I’d like to give you my top five questions that begin with “Why,” and how asking these questions consistently can make you a better salesperson.
Why do my customers buy from me? Salespeople usually have no problem with asking why customers do not buy from them; postmortems on lost sales are part and parcel of a learning process. However, salespeople who attempt to understand why they win business better position themselves to continue winning it, now and into the future. It’s the difference between playing offense and playing defense; knowing why they buy from you teaches you to win. Knowing why they don’t conditions you to prevent loss. Both are important, but ultimately, knowing how to win is the most powerful thing you can learn.
Why would a customer be interested in seeing me? Like it or not, prospecting for appointments is part and parcel of most good salespeoples’ routines. This isn’t a bad thing if you do it right. Unfortunately, too many salespeople endeavor to use their precious phone time to educate, rather than to motivate. You can teach your customer all about what you do without interesting him or her in seeing you; instead of that, why not look for what excites and motivates customers to invest the time with you? If you’re stuck, ask the customers who do give you appointments about why they did. It can be a great educational experience that helps you get more appointments in the future.
Why should a customer buy my stuff over my competitors’? I’m sure you can recite features and benefits of your products as if they were tattooed into your brain. The more important question is how those features and benefits stack up against your competitors’ products, and for what needs are your products more appropriate? Can you identify those needs that make your product a better purchase – and which ones do not?
Why would fellow salespeople want to network with me? Networking is a great way to build your business and generate referrals – but do your networking partners truly win when they work with you? Are you as active in generating referrals as your networking partners are for you? If you can’t come up with reasons for networking partners to want to be a part of your network, you might consider making some changes in how you handle your relationships.
Why do I sell? I saved the best for last. Sales is a tough job, and without the proper motivation, it’s even tougher. Without knowing or understanding what it is that makes you want to sell, the peaks may never be as high as they could be, and the valleys could be career-killers. For a little self-analysis, make a list of the things you love about sales, and keep it handy. There will be times when you’ll need it.
Of course, this is only a small sampling of the “Why?” questions that salespeople need to ask of themselves, their employers, and their customers. Without the intellectual curiosity to ask them, however, you will never be as effective as you could be. When you get stuck for a sales question, start with “why,” and you’ll find that you get better answers that are more to the point and lead to more important customer knowledge.