To be successful in sales, it's vital that to you are able to respond quickly and thoroughly to the needs, and often the objections, of your customers. For some, it can be tempting to approach that task by working from a gut feeling and to try and formulate conversation or even responses based on assumptions. In other words, working from what you feel to be true as opposed to what you know to be true.

It's one of the most common mistakes that a sales person can make.

Decisions you make in sales based on assumptions aren't just unwise because they're based on incomplete (and likely inaccurate) information, it's also because they're based on a notion that you understand your customers' needs without first having checked with them and asking them to define those needs.

Instead, you need to ask questions. Not just any question that pops into your head, either. To be effective, you need to make sure you're asking the right questions in the right manner.

So what does that entail. Well for starters, you need to remember that a sales person who seeks out a customer to ask probing questions is doing far more than making good conversation.

There's a different objective at stake.

What they they're really doing is engaging in an interview (although when carried out properly, the customer should not see it this way). As a prize-winning investigative reporter once remarked: "The goal of a conversation is to exchange information; the goal of an interview is to receive information." The more often you exercise the latter approach, the more skilled you'll become in getting the facts and information you need so that you can hit those sales targets quarter after quarter.

To illustrate, let's look at a case study and then explore how an accomplished sales professional could start digging for important additional information about a customer's needs, simply by adopting an investigative reporter's fact-finding approach.

You're at a networking event and you find yourself with an opportunity to speak one-on-one with Emily, the COO of the MegaSuper Widget Manufacturing Company. She has been with the company for six months and you have heard from a reliable third party that she's eager to make changes to improve sales. This is of great interest to you because your company has a service that would be an ideal solution for Emily's firm. We'll call this service yours "Super Shipping Express."

With these facts in hand, let's look at the range of possible questions you could choose from that would help you better understand the needs of this customer so you can generate new sales.

After Emily tells you: "I am the new COO here at the MegaSuper Widget Manufacturing Company…" be sure to ask questions such as:

  • Tell me about your new role.
  • What brought you here to this company? What are some of your priorities in this new position?
  • What were you doing prior to working here?

When Emily indicates "I have been here for about six months…" ask:

  • Tell me about your first four months. How have things been going so far?
  • What seems to be working well in your organization…and what's not working as well as you would like?
  • What would you ideally like to see changed or improved from what you've seen so far?

After Emily mentions her interest in exploring new ways to improve her company's way of doing business, the questions you should ask include:

  • Tell me more about your need to improve the way your company does business?
  • What would you like to improve first?
  • What has been the impact of these issues that you have been observing?
  • How would you like to see things change in the way your firm does business?
  • What would the benefits be if we could help you attain those goals?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, in which we'll dig even deeper into this case study and look at even more ways you can hone your investigative reporter skills to find out more about what your customers want.

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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