Suppose I say to you, "I need new glasses," and then I ask you for suggestions. What are you likely to say in reply?
We actually ask this question early on in our workshops. We get thoughtful, earnest answers. One participant may ask whether we need prescription lenses or just reading glasses. Another may suggest we check out the local Lens Crafters. A third will give us the number of his cousin the ophthalmologist.
All of them, in good faith and with a real desire to help, will bring their individual solutions to bear on what they see as our problem. All of them, without fail, believe that the problem prompting the comment is poor eyesight - and, they're ready with solutions perfectly tailored to address it.
Until we tell them that eyesight isn't the problem.
"In a couple of weeks," we explain, "we're going to be hosting a wine tasting. It'll be a fairly posh affair, for about fifteen friends, and we don't have that many matching wine glasses."
Chuckles all around, and a few groans.
"But you didn't say..."
"If we had known you meant wine glasses..."
"Well, we just assumed..."
The people we work with, coach, train and consult with are experienced, solid professionals--often the best in their field. Yet when faced with a simple question about a solvable problem, they invariably make a classic seller's mistake. They assume that our understanding of a critical term ("glasses") is identical with their understanding.
As a result, they fall into a common, and easily avoided, conceptual trap. Drawing on their own expertise and their own good will, they provide a solution to a problem that hasn't been properly defined.
You know what? It happens all the time. Salespeople hear a customer begin to express a need and start thinking about solutions before the customer finishes the sentence. And that couldn't be more wrong.
A key sales lesson for any would-be problem solver: Define your terms.
Or, more precisely, ask your customer to define his or her terms, so you can be certain that any solution you offer fits the bill. Truly understand what she wants the requested feature or characteristic to address, and what she actually wants it to do.
Don't assume you know what your buyer means, even if you have heard that term a hundred times before. In reality, we only THINK we know what this buyer means based on what we heard other buyers say. But we can't really be certain.
For example, if the buyer says "I need a solution that is easy to use," can you be certain you know this particular buyer's definition of easy to use?" If he says "I need competent service personnel" or "effective end-user training", do we really understand what this buyer, at this moment is intending to convey?
In reality, this person might as well be saying "I need new glasses." If you don't ask your customer for clarification -- early in the game and throughout the sales process -- you may very well find yourself at Lens Crafters shopping for stemware.
Bob Nicols has 34 years of experience in sales, sales management, executive management and sales force development. He founded Burton Training Group, now AXIOM Sales Force Development, in 1990 after being a top and highly recognized performer in sales, sales management and executive positions within the technology sector. He has managed and mentored thousands of sales people, sales managers and senior managers and been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For more than 21 years he has developed and delivered sales programs that have become the standard for many Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, BellSouth, Disney Enterprises, Alltel, Verizon and ESPN. AXIOM programs have been implemented in over 30 countries including Japan, the UK, Germany, Dubai, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, China, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Slovakia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. Bob's highly energetic and insightful lectures and workshops have resulted in invitations to be a featured presenter at dozens of national and international sales meetings and conferences. He is a trusted advisor to the presidents and senior managers of multiple organizations, both large and small and has been a board member of a national technology company. Bob is the developer of AXIOM's “Selling Sciences ProgramTM” and co-author of the “Selling Sciences” CD series.