Most salespeople don't receive proper training.

In most cases, a salesperson will walk in the first day and their manager will hand them a packet of materials--and inside will be their standard pitch. "Your job is to pick up the phone and use this script when talking to a customer," they'll say. 

And that's exactly what the salesperson will do.

The problem with these sales scripts, however, is they only work if and when you're speaking to a highly qualified customer. And on top of that, every customer has different needs and pain points. So it starts to become very inefficient for salespeople to roll through 5-7 minute sales scripts, only to reach the end and have the customer say, "Oh, I thought you guys did something completely different."

That piece of information could have been easily discovered in the first 30 seconds of the conversation.

Which is why I think about sales as a conversation--not a script.

When we were looking hard at how we could improve our sales teams here at my company, LendingOne, we found our salespeople would answer the phone and roll right into their initial sales pitch. Someone would call and say they received our mailer and were interested in our loan products, and our salespeople would go on and on before they even knew if they had a qualified customer.

Multiply dozens of these calls per day times five days per week, four weeks per month, and it was clear a lot of time was being wasted on calls that led nowhere.

So we changed the model from a sales script to a series of questions that led to a conversation.

When a prospective customer would call, our salespeople asked right off the bat, "So where are you calling from?" The customer would say, "California." Based on this answer, the salespeople would drop down the list to the next relevant question. "Do you have a property ready to go? Or are you interested in purchasing a property?" They'd say, "I have a property ready to go." Our salespeople would follow up and say, "Great, what's the address? I'll look it up right now."

And so on. Which allowed our salespeople to take control of the conversation and better understand if the customer on the other line was a qualified customer.

Every great salesperson knows that the key to selling is to first understand what the customer is looking for, before you dive in and start trying to sell them something. I have dozens of these stories in my book, All In. 

If you want your sales teams to close more deals, teach them to listen for these three things before they start their pitch:

1. Is this product or service something the customer wants or needs?

The real value of asking questions first is it helps you understand where your customer is coming from.

Is they looking for something that's more convenient? Is this something they need taken care of as soon as possible? Knowing whether the customer is in a "want" or "need" scenario will dictate the sort of language you use when framing your offering. For example: If you ask them what current product or service they're using and they say, "It's broken and I need a solution by end of the week, no matter what," your salesperson should take that as a cue to accentuate the efficiencies of your product or service.

2. What are their customer-specific pain points?

Every customer has slightly different pain points. And although a company's product or service won't necessarily be able to change and custom fit every customer, the way you frame your offering can speak more directly to what the customer is struggling with.

Where most salespeople go wrong here is they assume they know what the customer's pain points are, instead of just asking them. In order to ask them, you need to pose a few questions and then be quiet. Listen. Keep your mouth shut so they have the time to tell you what they need--instead of jumping to conclusions and rushing in with your pitch.

Contrary to popular belief, great salespeople are better listeners than they are talkers.

3. What products or services are they currently using, and what can you deliver that's better?

While asking questions, you want to get a sense of what they're currently experiencing so you can deliver on those expectations even better.

For example: When we're selling loans, our salespeople often ask, "How fast do you need to close that loan?" The customer might say, "Well, our last loan took a month to close," which gives us the opportunity to say back, "We close our loans in 10 business days. Would that work for you?"

Don't underestimate the value of asking questions. The more you know about what the customer on the other line is struggling with, the easier the sales process becomes--because you know exactly what issues to speak to.