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Check Your Assumptions at the Door


Have you ever seen a prospect’s eyes glaze over? Most professional salespeople have had this experience. Maybe you have, too.

Here’s one way it might have played out. You showed up for a face-to-face meeting, you made what felt like a good initial connection with your contact, and you found some points of commonality that made the initial “meet and greet” phase go quite smoothly. Everything seemed to be going great. Then you asked whether it made sense to “get down to business.” The prospect agreed. And you started asking a familiar set of “needs analysis” and “fact-finding” questions.

That’s when the person’s eyes started to get strange.

You focused on a series of questions based on your own assumptions about the situation. Once you started working through that list of questions, you noticed that the prospect’s gaze started to shift, as though you’d suddenly started speaking a different language.

And that’s exactly the problem. You were speaking a different language.

Any time a sales discussion starts out strong, and then dies the moment you move out of the “meet and greet” phase, there’s a very good chance you have lost the sale to your own preconceived notions.

All too often, in their attempt to increase sales, salespeople focus on all the wrong elements. They approach selling situations with preconceived ideas about why a prospect would or should buy, and then frame their “needs analysis” or “fact-finding” questions around those notions.

This may happen early in the relationship, when salespeople typically turn their attention to the features, benefits, and value-added aspects of their product or service, in an attempt to differentiate it from that of the competition and ultimately convince prospects to buy. Or they may focus on price or cost containment. While these elements may eventually play a part in the decision, they are never where you want to start.

Salespeople need to first focus, not on their own assumptions, but on the prospect.

The next time you are tempted to move out of your initial “meet and greet” discussion by appealing to a familiar sequence of questions, try asking about the one thing that’s likely to be unique to this individual buyer: motive.

Remember: Prospects buy for their reasons . . . not necessarily your reasons. This is the "Golden Rule" of sales.

The prospect’s reason for talking to you is not something you can expect to understand as you begin the discussion. You must determine not only what aspects of the product or service prospects are interested in, but why the person is interested. What is this person’s motives for wanting, needing, or desiring a discussion about the product or service?

Using this approach, you can share what other people you’ve worked with have typically raised as concerns (late delivery times, loss of key customers, missed market opportunities, or whatever else is relevant) and then ask your prospect share how close those kinds of challenges are to his or her own experience. Notice that you are not focusing on features, benefits, value-added aspects of your product or service, or price at this point. You are asking about possible gaps between where your prospect is now and where he or she wants to be. Once you identify that gap, in the prospect’s terms, that’s what you should discuss first -- and in depth.

In short, you must determine exactly what your prospects are trying to accomplish. What problems are they trying to solve or avoid? Is their concern short-term or long-term? Is it an immediate need or a future need? Give these issues precedence over any assumptions or preconceived notions of your own. If your prospect is concerned with the increased productivity aspects of a product or service, and you’re emphasizing the cost-saving aspects, the prospect will disengage. The two of you won’t be speaking the same language. Invest the time to first uncover the prospect’s motivation for the meeting … and then formulate questions that dig deeper into that motivation.

It may be tempting to use a familiar sequence of questions in an attempt to “script out” your exchanges with prospects ahead of time. But it doesn’t work – unless your goal is to get the person’s eyes to glaze over. Check your assumptions at the door, and focus on the motive instead. You’ll close more deals.