by Tom Piscitelli
Every salesperson believes they understand what the customer wants, but until he or she allows the customer to tell them — they actually don’t have a clue.
Last month (See CB, November 2002, p. 62) we discussed the first two steps in the T.R.U.S.T.® selling process: telling the truth (all of the time), and developing a customer relationship (for life). We established how critical it is to get off on the right foot with the customer, and how simple it is to stay on track — as long as we have their needs in mind, not ours.
This month we’ll take a look at how to find out what the customer wants, and next month, what to do with the information once we get it.
First, a quiz: True or false: I’m in control of what the customer is thinking when I’m talking.
If you said true — consider the next question.
True or false: I’m in control of what the customer is thinking when I’m asking questions and listening.
If you now said true, congratulations.
The fact is, I don’t have a clue what someone is thinking about when I’m talking. And to make it worse, even if I do note that the other person isn’t listening attentively, I’ll sometimes ignore what I’m sensing and keep right on going.
But the reality is that talking too much on a sales call isn’t effective. The only way to find out what customers want and need is to ask them and listen to their answers.
So how much is the “right amount” of talking vs. asking and listening? Someone once said we are born with the right answer; look in the mirror and you’ll see one mouth and two ears.
Asking questions gets the customer to think about what you want them to think about. And listening tells them that you care about them.
Let’s take this a step further. Potential customers don’t know much about heating and air conditioning equipment, so it’s natural for them to feel anxious about making a purchase. Plus, most people don’t plan for the replacement, and don’t budget for it, so they’re nervous about spending too much money. To top it off, most are skeptical about salespeople, so they’re cautious and don’t warm up to you right away.
Given all of that, you have reason enough to get started on the right track, and stay there. There’s no better way to put someone at ease than to ask about themselves and their problems, and then truly listen to their answers. By doing this, you simultaneously find out what a customer wants and put them at ease with you — all while being in control of the call.
How we listen matters too. There is a skill you can develop that is called active listening. This is the natural way to listen when we’re sincerely interested in something. We just have to consciously use these same tools during sales calls. Active listening skills include:
•Verbal affirmations such as “yes,” “I see,” and “um hmmm.”
•Repeating back/summarizing what the customer said.
•And, the grandmother of all active listening skills — writing down what the customer says.
I emphasized this last one because it seems to naturally put all of the other active listening skills into play, and it shows customers that you heard them.
Furthermore, in the T.R.U.S.T® selling process, you’ll use everything the customer said was important to prepare their proposal. Having customers watch you write their words down is a powerful way to show them you’re on their side.
Quiz: If you create a proposal by only using the information the customer gives you, who, then, creates the proposal?
Of course the answer is the customer creates the proposal. By asking and actively listening, you put customers at ease, get them involved in the decision-making, show sincere interest in helping to solve their problems, and guide them to a solution they have ownership in. When it’s time to ask for the order, you can be very confident they’ll want what they created.
Okay, now that that’s established, let’s look at what questions to ask, and how to ask them (Figure 1).
I recommend starting with open questions. These are general questions and can lead you anywhere the customer wants to go. Example, “What have you liked the most about your current system?”, and, “What would you like to see improved with your new system?”
The customer’s answers are important, and can lead you into a conversation.
The second type are priority questions. These are specific to issues you’re pretty sure most customers have, and you’ll ask them to tell you how important the specific problems are. Example: “Do you have any problems with indoor or outdoor system noise?” Many customers do, including having to turn up the television volume every time the system fan comes on.
Given any affirmative reply, write it down, and then ask, “Can you help me by ranking this for me, is this very important to you, somewhat important, or not very important?” Again, write down exactly what the customer says.
Ask these questions as you’re doing your walk-through with a customer. The reason: so you can better understand their needs (absolutely show them your survey form).
Okay, at this point you’ve met the customer, established rapport, built some trust, found out what the problems are, and learned what he or she want in their new system. Next month we’ll conclude our discussion of the T.R.U.S.T.® sales process by learning how to show customers what their choices are and tell them how to get what they want!
As Peter Drucker said, “be the change you are trying to create.”
So get out there, and make it
Tom Piscitelli is president of Applied Learning Associates, Inc., an HVAC sales training and consulting company www.alainc.com, and partner of Chameleon Management Solutions, Inc., a Web-based provider of HVAC contractor business management services. Find out more online at www.chameleonmanagementsolutions.net. He can be reached at 425/985-4534 and [email protected].