Let's suppose you're following up on a potential client who accessed your website. You already know that the prospect is interested, so your best move it to ask questions that clarify that need or provide useful details about your product, right?

Wrong.

Moving directly into "selling mode" communicates that meeting your sales goals is more important than meeting your clients' needs or building a relationship, according to Susan Scott, author of the best-sellers Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership:

Rather than asking product-specific questions or (worse) pitching your product, Scott recommends opening a client conversation with questions that do not have assumptions attached to them. For example:

  • Why are we talking?
  • What is the most important thing we should be talking about?
  • What's on the top of your agenda?

You may be surprised to find that your assumptions about the client's needs and desires are greatly different than what's really going on, even if the meeting is a result of an apparent interest in your firm's offering.

Your goal should be identify the real issue, and then understand all the aspects of that issue, even if those aspects lie outside the ability of your offering to address. To do this, you must ask questions that might scotch the sale. For example:

  • Is this really a problem?
  • Is there only one problem?
  • Does everyone involved understand the problem as you've described it?

These questions could reveal that the real issue is quite different from what you originally assumed and that, therefore, the solution you're offering is inappropriate for that client.  While that seems like a bad thing, it's actually a victory, for three reasons.

First, there is no better way to build a long-term relationship than by foregoing or postponing a possible sale because it's not in the client's best interest. Second, you may discover an opportunity to partner with another firm to meet the client's needs.

Finally and most importantly, discovering the real issue prevents you from wasting time developing an opportunity that either won't result in a sale or, if it does, results in an unhappy or angry customer.

In other words, selling less at the beginning of the customer relationship creates the conditions for long-term success with that customer, enhances your overall reputation and keeps you from chasing wild (and/or exploding) geese.

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