"The Navigator" News Blog

May Your Tabula Be Rasa

One of the most common ways for a sale to end up in the Graveyard of Lost Sales is for the salesperson to assume things as fact that aren’t fact at all in the mind of the customer; or, worse, they begin with ‘knowledge’ that isn’t correct.  Ironically, this can come from doing one of the right things before a sale; more on this later.

Since sales is a game that’s played inside the head of your buyer, it’s important that you work through the process in concert with your buyer – assumptions can be a sale killer.  To deal with this, I teach salespeople a concept that I learned in debate – the concept of Tabula Rasa.  That’s a Latin phrase meaning “blank slate,” and knowing it – and living by it – can be key to your success.

As the concept is applied in debate, it means that the judge has no presumed positions or opinions on the topic, and the entire result is determined by what is said or proven with evidence during the debate.  This concept also applies in legal proceedings; nothing is assumed to be factual unless it is testified to or shown in open court.

So how does this apply to sales?  Well, it’s simple.  In sales, there are no facts until and unless the buyer either states them or agrees with them.  That’s where a lot of salespeople go wrong.  A typical postmortem after a lost sale might look like this:

Salesperson: “But, I don’t understand why they bought from competitor A.  I proved that our machine was the best value.”

Me:  “Did the buyer agree that your machine was the best value?”

Salesperson:  “Well, not in so many words, but when you compare specs vs. price….”

Me:  “Doesn’t matter.”

In this case (a real live scenario from a month ago), the salesperson assumed that because he explained the specs vs. price, that the customer knew that his machine was the best value – even though the customer didn’t say so.  He assumed wrong and lost the sale.

When we go into a sale, the fewer assumptions we carry, and the fewer assumptions we make during the sale, the better off we are.  As I noted above, sometimes we can work against ourselves. Pre-call research is a great practice, but sometimes it can lead us down the wrong road.  For instance, the salesperson finds a statement on the customer’s website that the customer plans to open four new locations in the next year, which makes them a better candidate for the salesperson’s services.

What the salesperson didn’t find was a statement that the company has scrapped this approach, instead deciding to bolster their online presence.  See the train wreck that’s about to happen?  Sometimes the research you find – even on the customer’s own website – is obsolete or otherwise irrelevant.  If the salesperson builds an approach around that “fact,” the salesperson will be firing at a target that isn’t there.  So how can we deal with that, using Tabula Rasa thinking?  Simple.  Ask a confirming question.

Salesperson:  “Mr. Customer, I see on your website that you plan to open four new locations in the next year.  Where will they be?”

Customer:  “Wow, that’s still on there?  No, sorry, we’re not doing that.  Instead we’re going to bolster our online presence.”

In this case, there’s no harm and no foul.  The salesperson was able to check and confirm, BEFORE building a presentation around false knowledge, because the salesperson remembered the Tabula Rasa mindset – it’s not a fact until the customer says it’s a fact.  In this case, it wasn’t.

Assumptions cause lost sales, missed opportunities, and bad customer relationships.  Don’t assume.  Instead, in every new call, think Tabula Rasa.  If a piece of information will affect your sale, make sure you get that information confirmed or stated verbally during the call.  It’ll keep you visiting the Graveyard of Lost Sales quite so often.