Questions We Are Afraid To Ask


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Often, in talking about deals with sales people, there are things that just don’t make sense.  The customer is doing things that don’t make sense–they are very far off our normal experience in similar sales situations.  They may be responding in a very unusual manner.

They may be asking things that are really wrong–perhaps missing critical issues they should be looking at, demonstrating real misunderstanding of the issues they should be considering for a solution, or focusing on the wrong issues.

Sometimes, perhaps in the very worst cases, if we were in their shoes, we would not be considering some of the things they are considering (putting aside all our biases and looking at we would do if we were them).

We are perplexed.  What’s going on?  What are they doing?  Why? What’s driving them to be looking at things in such an odd fashion?  What’s driving the unusual behaviors?  Why aren’t they sharing information that’s critical for us to respond?  Have they already made their decision, but simply haven’t told us?

If only we could understand, then perhaps we could more effectively guide them, answer their questions, understand what’s driving them, or even decide this isn’t the right deal to pursue.

But we’re afraid to ask these questions.  Perhaps we don’t want to look stupid to the customer by asking such obvious questions.  Or maybe we fear making the customer feel stupid.  Or maybe we don’t want to appear to be confrontive–we want to be the customer’s friend or serve them by answering their questions.

Or maybe we are afraid of what they might answer.  The response may knock us out of a deal.  Either they may say, “If you don’t understand you are the wrong vendor,” or “You know you are right, we really shouldn’t be doing anything,” or something similar.

So instead, we proceed as best we can.  Perhaps somewhat blindly, not really sure of what’s going on, but hoping they will make a decision for us, though not really knowing what to do other than pray, hope, wish.

If things don’t make sense, we owe it to ourselves and the customer to confront the issues.  We must ask them.

Perhaps it’s, “In other situations like this, we see customers normally doing these things…….  It seems unusual that you aren’t doing these.  Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, could you help me understand so I can be more helpful in what you are trying to do.”

Or maybe the ultimate, “Based on what I understand in this situation, if I were in your shoes, I would never make a decision for our solution.  What am I missing, why would you even be considering our solution?”

The list can go on, but you get my point.

The worst the customer can do is provide a response that would cause us to disqualify them, or them to disqualify us.  In which case, hopefully we have lost fast, so we haven’t wasted much time and we can move on to a more promising opportunity.  Blindly pursuing a bad deal will probably result in a loss, but only after we have invested a lot of time and resource.

But, if we challenge the customer appropriately, we may cause them to reassess what they are doing.  They may shift their direction, they may be more open with what’s driving them, why they are behaving as they are.  Such challenges enable both the customer and us to learn, to reassess what we are doing, perhaps to shift positions.  Whatever the case, we understand better and are more likely to improve our ability to respond to what our customers need, differentiate ourselves, and win.

So if something doesn’t make sense.  If it is very far outside the norm of other situations, it’s worth trying to understand why.  The customer may have a specific reason, when we understand we can respond.  The customer may misunderstand and our challenge may help them correct their direction.

Have the courage to engage and challenge your customer–politely.  You’ll be surprised at what you learn.

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.


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