I founded my first company, eteatrade Ltd., at the end of the nineties, at the very peak of the dot-com boom...and just a couple of months before the subsequent crash. That timing might have been disastrous for us, but it wasn't. Instead, the business persevered and unlike many "dot-coms," we built a solid business that generated healthy revenues. Running that company was one of the most seminal and educational experiences of my professional career.
Of the hundreds of things I learned during that period, two messages stood out more clearly than any others: always be open to alternative viewpoints and always dig deeper into your customers' wants and needs. It's not their job to tell you what they need to know in order to want to buy your product--it's your job to find out.
Now that we're seeing more uncertainty in the market as a whole, it's more important than ever to deeply understand the needs of your customers and prospects, so you can give them exactly what they want, without them ever having to ask. That's the best way to ensure the success of your business, regardless of what happens in the broader economy.
How I Learned the Same Lesson from My Biggest Mistake
Unfortunately, the reason I've come to appreciate the power of being open to customer information wasn't from my successes, but from one pretty big mistake. At eteatrade, we were working with a new potential customer--the biggest we'd ever engaged with. This company dominated its industry, and I wanted very much for the deal to go through.
We met with buyers from that company multiple times, and listened attentively to everything that they said. We explained how our solution could assure them the cheapest price for the goods they needed. They politely heard us out and, ultimately, turned us down. I believe I later realized why: the way that this company functioned, it didn't really matter that we could fulfill their needs at the lowest price; it mattered that they could spend less than their competitors were paying. What they really wanted was a competitive edge that our product really didn't provide. Unfortunately, that wasn't something that the company would have wanted to articulate directly. It was something I needed to infer on my own. I needed to listen not to what they said, but what they didn't say.
That experience taught me that customers won't always articulate what they want, and that it's up to the seller to read between the lines. We had a good deal of knowledge about the company and its industry, and if I'd thought about it critically, I should have been able to identify its needs relatively easily. I now understand that my job as a salesperson is to do that kind of excavation every time I engage with a new potential customer.
One of the most definitive indicators of good salespeople is how well they listen. No matter how much experience you might have or how well you might think you know an area, there's always something more that your customer isn't telling you. If you dig deep enough, you might just find exactly what you need to seal the deal.