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Why as Sales professionals are some of us insatiably curious and others not so much?
As children, our favourite word was “why” we always had to know why, usually it was “Why” we couldn’t have something. But as we grew up our curiosity dampened and, in some adults, it is gone.
We read in job descriptions, that being creative, curious, analytical, and results-oriented, is a sought-after skill for sales people but why can’t some of us go there?
Earlier in my career, I wasn’t as curious as I am now, part of it was I was focused on solving the problem in front of me, dealing with the “BTL” below the line, user level. They had a problem, I had the solution, quick fix and move on. I got by without being overly curious.
As I advanced in my career, I started dealing more with ATL, Above the Line users, Executives, and C Suites, they were not solving a particular problem, they were exploring the cause of why something was or wasn’t happening. I had to take a step back and look at the broader picture and understand how some of these individual problems make up a spider web of larger problems. Doing this tripled the size of my opportunity, but to be successful, I needed to fully understand their business, their priorities. How did they get themselves in this situation, what have they done to try and fix it, and what happens if they don’t fix it? What is the impact on the executive, shareholders, and company reputation? I had questions that needed answers, the situation forced me to become curious.
For me to ask surface-level questions, would not give me the real reasons things are happening and the true impact, hence no compelling reason to change.
I added words like “Interesting, tell me more”, and “And then what happened…?” “In your opinion, why do you think that occurred...?” I couldn’t have pieces of the story. I needed the full story, then I needed to dig deeper, and recap what I heard. To offer a solution to something I didn’t fully understand was not an option for me. Sadly it is for many today.
When you start understanding the behaviours, practices, and processes of your prospect you start to get a sense of the culture, their desire to make decisions, and their motivation to act. Is there an element of complacency? Is this beyond their scope? Is there education required?
So, I took it slow, asked many second and third-degree questions, and went below the surface to get to the root cause of the issue. The emotion behind the situation, the question behind the questions and the impact. Being in this situation for so long, what they can’t do now because of it? That is pain, there is emotion, overwhelm, frustration, lean into this.
The clarity I experienced had a direct correlation to confidently sharing with them, “Yes, I can help”. There was a level of conviction in my tone that others didn’t have because they didn’t take the time to fully understand the situation.
To pitch at a surface level problem is an easy one, the status quo wins.
However, if they do decide to move forward nobody is set up for success, you don’t have full awareness of the depth, breadth, and impact of the problem. There will be more behind it and most likely you are solving a symptom, delivering temporary results.
Few pointers to remember:
Curiosity without context is interrogation. How can we avoid this?
It may sound something like “Bob, to fully understand your situation and see if we are in a position to help you, I’d like to learn more about your processes, is it ok if I ask you a few questions”? Permission-based, Bob knows the questions are coming, he is prepared for them, and he also knows why to see if we can help him.
Can we soften the “Why’ by adding “in your opinion” in front of it? “Thank you, Bob, for sharing details of your process and the recent deviations from it. I’m curious, in your opinion, why do you think this is happening?
With this approach, it is not legally binding, fact-based, this is Bob’s honest and professional opinion. It is less threatening and it de-risks the situation, if it’s not fully true, it’s Bob’s perception of why it’s happening. Asking this question to a few of Bob’s colleagues will give you a full picture of what is happening. Plus, most people want to share their opinion and are delighted you asked them, they feel empowered and have a sense of ownership of being part of something.
Asking impact questions. “Bob when there is non-compliance with this part of the process, what is the impact to you? Your team? The organization. I can zoom out here or I can zoom in. To your shareholders, your department, your team, you?
This allows Bob to see this problem has more impact than just him. Can you then quantify that impact, what is that costing you? Per day/ month/ quarter? Suddenly, it is difficult for Bob to turn a blind eye to this problem. He is aware of it, the impact on the company and what it is costing them.
We also want to be mindful of our tonality, we could be asking great questions but taking the tone of interrogation or one that is condescending will not yield the results we are after. Practice asking questions in a non-threatening way and pausing. Remember we may have caught our prospects off guard, these questions might provoke thought, which is what you want. Hold space for them to unpack it in their minds before jumping in to fill the silence.
What step will you take today to be more childlike? and not be afraid to dig deep? it is the only way to truly understand their problem. When done right it allows your customer to feel heard and build trust. You are making them the focus to see if you can help them, the more information you have the quicker you will determine if you can or cannot partner with them.
What is one thing will you do today to lean into your curiosity?
For 20 years Karen has been specializing in the art and science of sales and communication her passion and experience are helping technical sales professionals become more confident and to disrupt with value.
Her dedication to developing and delivering customized sales training programs provide her audience practical, relevant tools that can be used immediately to break down the barriers in a competitive landscape and separate themselves from the noise.