“When would it be convenient for you to talk next week?”
Did you catch the assumptions in the question? How about:
that you consider a conversation useful and valuable?
that you want to converse?
that you have time next week?
that you have time at all?
You get the picture. Without assumptions, we’d be stuck having to nitpick every bleeping detail, and never getting our discussions out of the gate. In selling, assumptions are as natural as breathing. Yet salespeople are beat up for having them. You’ve heard it ad nauseum: “Assumptions make an (idiot) of you and me!” A recent blog posted on CustomerThink advises, “above all, never make assumptions.” I understand the appeal of Total Certainty, but it ain’t gonna happen. In case you can’t tell, I’m a card-carrying Assumer, and proud of it!
So why do assumptions get such a bad rap, especially when humans are wired from birth to make them? I don’t know, but I can’t sell without assumptions, let alone get out of bed. Now that I think about it, without assumptions, I couldn’t even use . . . Twitter! (Tweets get read, and don’t try to tell me otherwise!) So recommending to a salesperson not to assume anything makes as much sense as telling a resident of Baku, Azerbaijan not to breathe. Sure, the atmosphere is filthy, but holding your breath indefinitely will kill you faster than inhaling dirty air.
Before the bad vibes about assuming were popularized, assumptions and selling had a happier relationship. Remember the assumptive close championed in sales training courses? “Would you like your Pontiac Aztek in Electric Blue or Fusion Orange?” OK, maybe the technique has the taint of an ugly history, but it still has merit.
I’ve assumed lots of things throughout my sales career. Some of my assumptions continue to work fabulously well, and they’re the nucleus of my sales approach. In my prospect universe, I generally assume that
• the people I work with represent themselves honestly
• they don’t have malicious intentions
• there is a gap between their current business situation and where they want to be
Assumptions don’t come one-size-fits-all. If you’re selling encryption solutions to agents of foreign governments, the first two are dubious, but I would take the third one to the bank!
Other assumptions I’ve made have failed miserably. For a long time I assumed that customers want the best solution for their business needs. Admit it. You’ve assumed that too, right? Bad assumption, though—at least in my experience, because I lost an opportunity when my decision-maker prospect said, “Andy, you’re assuming I want the best solution. I don’t. I want a system installed by November 17th.” (True story. And the prospect was a Federal agency. You can rest assured our tax dollars are being spent wisely.)
“Assumptions make an (idiot) of you and me.” Maybe. But try “no assumptions” for a day, and see how much you accomplish. That’s why when you read an annual report for a publicly-traded company, you’ll find assumptions are given well-deserved prominence. Without assumptions, you cannot have a strategy. No shame! Be out there with your assumptions!
What’s needed is a kinder, more-nuanced attitude about assumptions, not blanket prohibitions from making them. My recommendations:
1. Know what you’re assuming. Many people don’t, and that’s how they get in trouble. After wrongly assuming my government prospect wanted the best solution, at least now I know I’m assuming it! (though I now ask some different questions).
2. Know the risks to your sales objectives if your assumptions don’t come to fruition.
3. Continually test your key assumptions for validity.
4. Get rid of assumptions that have a pattern of biting you in the rear. Replace those assumptions with questions that are effective in exposing the truth.
So whether you’re an executive designing strategy, or a salesperson developing an account plan, know what your assumptions are, and embrace them, because nothing in sales happens until someone assumes something!