Questioning for Sales

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My Father was a great salesman. Not because he knew his product, but because he knew his customers.

I remember, when I was young boy, asking him what he did for a living and he looked at me with a grin and said, “I sell air”. For the longest time I had no idea what that meant. It was only later in my youth that I would understand that he worked for a trucking company and his role was to sell the space on the trucks that transported anything from textile products to retail merchandise.

One of the things that struck me most about my father was his uncanny understanding of humanity and what motivates even the simplest of men. As I started to learn more about how he spent his days doing on the road, I learned pretty quickly that his expertise was not really how freight carriers moving products from place to place. His expertise was found in the art of authentic interaction and understanding of human nature.

Let me explain. When I was about seven years old, I went to work with him one day and he told me that we were going to see a client of his. As we arrived at his client’s office, he stopped to speak to Mrs. Johnson, the receptionist in the lobby. He addresses her by name and asked about how her schooling was going. I can still see the spark in her eyes as she told how she would graduate from the community college in the fall and that her husband was very proud of her. After a brief but cheerful conversation she invited us into the boss’s office, 15 minutes early, where the “real” meeting was to take place.

Again, I watched my father ask questions about John’s business and family while recalling the answers from previous meetings. In that twenty-minute conversation, I could not help but notice the way my father carefully listened to the answers while taking note of important facts. As we left, he called his customer by name as he shook his hand, and thanked him for his time.

As we reached the parking lot, I asked my Dad how he thought that meeting went. He looked at me and with a smile asked, “How do you think it went?” I answered that I thought it was boring. He laughed and said that from his perspective, the meeting went well. When I pointed out to him that he did not really do any of the talking, he looked me square in the eye and said, “You never learn anything when you are the one doing the talking”. On the ride back the office, he pointed out a few of the lessons he learned as a sales leader which still apply today.

First- People need to feel empowered to solve their own problems. He spoke less than five minutes in a twenty- minute conversation and walked out with an order in hand. The customer did not need him to solve his problem of transport, he needed him to offer a solution and empower him to choose his path.

Second- We all have a name. There is no cost to use it. He pointed out that the sweetest and most familiar sound to a person is the calling of their name. It sends a message that they are known and that you showed up physically and mentally.

Third – Questions are your friend. They give you opportunities to gain information, become resourceful and empower those around you to discover the solutions that most fit their needs.
How well do you listen to your customers? What are they telling you and are you empowering them to meet their need with your product or service? What change do you need to make yourself or perhaps does your team need to make in your communication to truly be centered on the customer’s success?

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