Discovering Needs Through Listening

Monday, April 8 2013

There are many questions you can ask a prospective customer; but, one of the simplest and most important is, “What do you need?” In a retail environment, business-to-business or business-to-consumer, if we don’t discover what the prospect needs, it’s difficult to help them to buy.

Several years ago I had a salesperson join my organization who was expected to fill our leadership-training program. He had been selling nearly as long as I had been alive, so I assumed he knew how to sell. When he failed to meet expectations, I joined him on an appointment to observe, and was taken aback by his approach.

Immediately after introductions, he opened our leadership binder and began to talk about all the wonderful lessons this business owner would learn. He explained the topics, how the program was conducted, and the cost. He never once asked the prospect what he needed.

At the end of his ‘presentation’ he asked the prospect if he’d like to join the next session, and the unimpressed business owner said he’d think about it. I bit my tongue, since my primary goal was to observe and provide feedback to the salesperson. And boy, did I give him feedback!

“What the heck were you doing in there?” I asked.

“Selling the course,” he replied.

“We don’t sell courses,” I said. “We solve problems and build on opportunities. The course is simply a means to an end. Do you have any idea why this guy should take our course?”

“It’s a great course and everyone should take it,” he responded, a puzzled look on his face.

“You and I know that, unfortunately, he still doesn’t, because you didn’t explain specifically how it would help him. And you won’t know that without asking the right questions.”

To be fair, prospects often don’t know what they need from our business so we have to ask questions to uncover their needs. Ask questions like:

  1. What kind of challenges do you have with employees?
  2. If you were to ask employees “What would make this a better place to work?” how do you think they might respond?
  3. What sort of things keep you awake at night?
  4. If there was one goal you would really like to achieve in your business, but have trouble with, what would that be?
  5. How satisfied are you with the way your business is going and your current rate of growth?

These questions, and others like them, enable you to better understand what the prospect needs and how your product or service can help. Pushing for a sale without knowing their needs is self-serving, unprofessional, and doomed to fail.