How Do You Know If The Customer “Knows?”


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As sales professionals, we are supposed to be masters of effective communication, yet too many times we overlook even the simplest of issues.

  • We’ve sent the customer some information–we assume the read it.
  • We’ve sent the customer some information–we assume they understand it.
  • We’ve sent the customer information and assume it addresses their needs, because we believe it addresses their needs.
  • We think we have answered a question or responded to a concern, but really haven’t.
  • Based on their “experience” and “background” we assume they know certain things.
  • They’ve sent us a query, we are working on it, we assume they know we are working on it and will get back to them.
  • We’re afraid of embarrassing the customer by asking things that may seem too simple.
  • ……and the list goes on.

Selling is difficult enough in the best of world, we can’t let miscommunication derail us! So many of the problems we may have with customers are a result of miscommunication, or more importantly, assumptions we make about our communications with customers.

It’s incumbent on us, sales professionals, to manage the effectiveness of our communications and verify that we are aligned with the customer–that we have heard what they have said and vice-versa.

Some thoughts:

Rule 1: Until it comes from the customer’s mouth it is just a guess! We make many assumptions about our customers’ problems, attitudes, opinions. Some of those assumptions may be right on, but until the customer says it, we are just shooting in the dark. Sometimes, it is less important for us to hear what they are saying than it is for them to hear themselves saying it—they can put a stake in the ground that we can then deal with.

Rule 2: We don’t know what the customer thinks, or what their attitudes are until we ask them. We make assumptions, we read body language, we think because they haven’t said anything, it may not be an issue. We guess about what they think–see rule 1.

Rule 3: The absence of questions or issues doesn’t mean there are no questions or issues. It only means we haven’t asked or probed deeply enough. See rule 2.

Rule 4. Just because you know something, doesn’t mean the customer knows it. So often, we know more about what’s going on in the customer’s organization than the customer. We may know more of what’s going on in the industry, markets, and technologies than the customer. It’s our job to know these things, not the customer’s. See rule 3.

Rule 5: Things change, customers change their minds. We must constantly re-validate attitudes, opinions, needs, priorities and issues. Just because the customer identified their top priorities a month ago, doesn’t mean their priorities haven’t changed. See rule 3.

Rule 6: If there is an elephant in the room–something that is difficult or tough to talk about, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. The elephant is still in the room, you have to address it, regardless how difficult it might be. See rule 3.

Rule 7: If something doesn’t make sense to you, it may not make sense to the customer–ask them about it. See rule 2.

Rule 8: There are stupid questions—don’t believe the wisdom “there is no such thing as a stupid question.” The stupid question is always the unasked question. Whether you are too proud, whether you are afraid of looking stupid, whether you don’t want to “bother” the customer, not asking questions, making assumptions is just stupid! See rules 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Rule 9: The whole point is to improve the quality and richness of our communication with our customer! We want to have rich communications and conversations, if we don’t follow rules 1-8, we fore-go the opportunity to have high quality conversations and we put our mutual success in jeopardy.

Rule 10: Being right doesn’t count, but this doesn’t mean the customer is always right. Too often sales people create “right/wrong” situations with the customer. These never win. The point is not how right you are, but what you can do both to understand and help the customer understand.

Are there any more rules?

For a free eBook on Coaching For High Performance, email me with your full name and email address, I’ll be glad to send you a copy. Just send the request to: [email protected], ask for the Coaching For Performance eBook

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave, this is one of the best blogs I have recently read. You make so many excellent points. The number one reason for client dissatisfaction is a lack of communication. And, these days folks don’t have a single minute to read all of their daily emails, respond to every call or attend every mandatory meeting. There are way too many internal meetings and not enough external customer visits. Additionally, instead of sending a hundred emails, one call from the company to the key customer contact can do wonders to foster excellent communication. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention @richardrshapiro


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