When I meet someone embarking on a sales career, I gladly offer this critical advice: Learn your customer’s backstory.
Every customer has one, but most salespeople don’t bother to find out what it is. They fret about what the customer is moving to rather than what the customer is coming from. This is so important that I recommend you write or type the following sentence out and display it somewhere you can see it daily. Even after you have developed a habit around the idea, it’ll be a reference that will always be valuable to you and, ultimately, your buyers. This will serve as constant sales training for your questioning skills.
I must understand where my customer is comingFROM before I can help get them where they want to go.
Think about how you begin your sales conversation. I advise the eager young salesperson if your questions start with the word “what,” you’re probably using a “TO” strategy. The “FROM” strategy depends on the word “why.”
Suppose you go to the doctor complaining of severe stomach pain, and she responds, “Tell me what you’re looking for in a pharmaceutical drug.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m out of there in a hurry. A good doctor will seek first to determine why you are in pain. Only then will she prescribe a treatment.
That analogy pertains to any other professional you consult. The attorney wants to know the background of the conflict. The accountant wants to see how you got to your current financial state.
The genuinely successful salesperson seeks to understand how to improve the customer’s life.
Let’s say a couple is shopping for a new car.
Most salespeople will immediately launch into the same tired old routine:
“What are you looking for?”
“What price do you have in mind?
“What key features are you looking for?”
“How did you hear about us?”
And, (triple ugh), “Can you decide today?”
That line of questioning won’t get you far because you haven’t learned a thing about your customer’s backstory. You don’t understand the context around their decision to walk into your showroom in the first place.
Suppose instead you ask this basic question: “May I ask you why you are considering buying a new car?”
You might learn that the couple’s old car is in the shop again. They’re tired of pouring money down the drain or saying that the wife recently totaled their vehicle in an accident. They’re apprehensive about safety.
Or perhaps they’re concerned about the fuel price or need a vehicle big enough to fit their five grandchildren. By asking that simple question beginning with “Why,” you can unlock the critical information that will dictate what you do next to move the sale forward.
Understanding the context lets you address their specific concerns and lead them to the best solution – whether it’s to put safety first, get the best fuel economy or accommodate a growing family.
So, before you meet your next customer, review your list of typical questions and ask yourself if they focus on providing the right product – the “what”– or on your customer’s backstory, the “why.”
Here’s the good news. When you learn the backstory, the sales will roll out in front of you. That’s when you change your customer’s world.