‘Naturally curious’ salesperson will ask better, deeper questions

If you’ve ever been exposed to Sandler Training, you know that the Sandler Selling System can be polarizing. Many of its theories, concepts and techniques are diametrically opposed to traditional selling. In fact, when we take on a new client, sometimes the veteran salespeople are the ones who are most resistant to the system. One of those polarizing concepts is the idea that a great salesperson is curious listener and question-asker vs. a gregarious pitch-woman or man.

It might be easiest to explain the value of a curious salesperson by looking at the pitfalls of a non-curious, too trusting or naïve salesperson. In traditional selling, positivity is taught and valued. The salesperson is coached to “get the prospect to agree with you … nod your head up and down in a YES fashion. Be enthusiastic, and get your prospect wrapped up in your enthusiasm for how amazing your product or service is.” This type of salesperson is most-often in “pitch mode,” spending most of their time extolling the features and benefits of what they are selling.

When the traditional “pitch-oriented” salesperson is talking, they’re not listening. Many salespeople don’t understand that their job is to GET information and NOT give it … at least to a prospect who has not yet been qualified for a presentation, quote or demo. When a sales person is naturally curious, they will be much more likely to ask great questions, REALLY listen to the answers, build rapport with the prospect and then present a solution based on what the PROSPECT told them they were trying to close the gap on, fix or attain.

While a subset of all salespeople are pre-disposed to ask some questions in the discovery part of their selling system, they can make several mistakes here. One mistake is to ask only surface-level questions and in return get only surface-level responses. Because of the perception of traditional salespeople, many prospects have their guard up and may not always openly share with the salesperson who is probing. The other problem is that the prospect may not even be in touch with all of the causes and elements of their pain.

A strong technique for salespeople to learn is to practice the rule of three. This rule states that it is often necessary for the salesperson to ask two to three follow-up questions to identify the true intent of the prospect and/or help the prospect discover the issues below the surface that have created their pain and a corresponding solution.

The rule of three might sound like this. Prospect Peter: “How would you fix the problem with our current supplier — they’re having trouble getting us order refills on time?” (Note: This is where the typical salesperson goes on a tear about their great delivery track record / capabilities). Salesperson Sally: “Help me understand, Peter, can you give me an example of a delivery failure in the past month?” Peter: “Sure, we order printer cartridges by the pallet. You could set your watch by it — we order a new pallet just about every month. On Friday, when we reached out to our supplier for more cartridges, they said they were out, which happens just about every time, so we had to go without for another week until they could re-stock and ship to us.”

Notice again that at this point in the conversation, Sally resists jumping on the existing supplier and asks a presumptive question to help Peter discover a solution. Sally: “When you suggested to them that they order two pallets and warehouse one so they’d always have one on hand for you, how did they respond?” Peter: “We haven’t thought about that, is that something YOU could do.” Sally: “Well, I’m not sure, I’d have to check with our warehouse manager, and there could be a small stocking fee, but if we could, would it even be worth it for you to even consider giving us the business?”

In the scenario above, the prospect does most of the talking, and the salesperson listens closely to use further questioning skills to help the prospect discover a solution themselves. After all, whose words are going to be more powerful to the prospect — their own, or those from a salesperson?

As the old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought her back!

Bob Bolak is president of Sandler Training. He can be reached at 303-579-1939 or bbolak@sandler.com.