Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Critical Skills For Sales Leaders - Asking Questions and Listening to Your Customer's Needs

By Ian Segail

"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you... For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)

Diagnosis - the process of identifying a pain or condition by its signs, symptoms, (finding out facts, information, and needs) and from the results of various diagnostic procedures.

Sensory acuity - the ability to gain awareness of another person's unconscious responses (to perceive another person's unconscious feedback- reading not just "what" they say, but "how" it is said.)

"Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice!" All professionals complete some form of diagnosis before helping their clients. If you want to be a professional, then so must you. In sales, this critical skill is called "Diagnostic Acuity". How do you say no to someone who has just offered to give you exactly what you wanted and needed? You don't, and that's exactly the point! When you truly know exactly what your potential customer is looking for, why they want it and how much they would be willing to pay for it, selling is easy.

How do you find out exactly what the customer wants and why they want it? You ask! The winning salespeople are the ones that have both the desire and the skill to determine what the potential customer wants and needs and why they want and need it. They have the skills to match those wants and needs to a set of potential solutions.

It would be virtually impossible to take a modern day sales course or read a book on selling and not be told emphatically "You have to first ask questions to identify the customer's needs!" Whilst by now most salespeople know this, knowing and doing it effectively are two very different things. The ability to ask skillful questions is absolutely mission critical in today's tough and globally competitive environment.

Diagnosis is mission critical Why is the ability to ask skillful questions so mission critical? Anthony Robbins says about questions that they are "the tools that open up the brain's knowledge, experience and memory banks."

Questions are the tools we as professional Sales Consultants use as a means to extract important information from the customer's perspective, and to learn more about what they perceive and think. When we don't ask questions effectively, not only do we assume we know all there is to know about the customer and their needs, we may never really uncover their true motive for meeting with us. In some cases, the customer has already done their "homework" and has already determined their buying criterion. For many of them, their purpose in meeting with you is to check with a range of suppliers to find which ones best meet their needs for the lowest cost. In many cases, they may even be comparing your organisation against an already approved supplier who has had the account for months.

Then there are those occasions where customers have a need that, at the point of your visit, they may not even be aware of. It then becomes your task to help them discover for themselves the latent need for your product/service. This is where the ability to ask skillful questions so critically important.

As with any other selling technique, the best salespeople are always aware of the way they ask the question making sure to "couch" it in such a way as to remove any hint of judgment, or coercion. They watch their own tone of voice, body language, and word choice. This is what's known as acuity.

Acuity is... The term 'acuity' refers to the actual physical ability of the sensory organs to receive input. A person's visual acuity refers to the person's ability to see. In persuasion, visual acuity is more than simply seeing what is in front of you; it is taking in all aspects of the customer: noticing their eye movements, their skin tone changes, their breathing, as well as their body language.

The body gives clues to the way your customer is thinking. Visual acuity is being totally focused on the complete picture in front of you. In selling, auditory acuity is the salesperson's ability to really listen and hear what is being said with accuracy. Listening correctly means avoiding making assumptions and guessing as to the customers meaning. Listening actively means clarifying, summarising, empathising, restating and paraphrasing in an effort to hear accurately.

When it comes to identifying needs and opportunities, as a professional salesperson it is critically important to understand the distinction between 'acuity' and 'perception'.

  • Acuity is the process of receiving all the input with accuracy. Acuity is only the gathering process of the content and physical information. It is not the interpretation part of the process.
  • Perception refers to the salesperson's ability to understand, or make meaning out of the sensory input received through their eyes and ears. Perception is the salesperson's interpretation of the content gathered. Perception should always follow acuity.

Diagnostic Acuity Capability is at the very heart of any successful sales process. When you question correctly, you search below the surface in an effort to discover and reveal the truth of what is really going on in the minds and hearts of your potential customers. Asking the right questions and then being in a position to prescribe exactly the right set of solutions to solve those issues is what professional selling is all about.

As one of Australia's leading authorities and coaches in sales management, Ian Segail has been involved in the coaching, training and development of sales managers and salespeople for over two decades.

Drawing on 25 years of experience in sales, sales management and leading an HR and training team, Ian brings a strong dose of fiscal reality and practicality to his works as a Sales Performance Coach.

Engaging directly with business owners and both novice and experienced sales managers alike, across a wide variety of industries and selling disciplines, the focus of Ian's work is to transform sales results for companies by improving sales management practices.

Ian is the author of "Bulletproof Your Sales Team: The 5 Keys To Turbo-boosting Your Sales Team's Results" and a number of business articles, business reports and white papers including "The fish stinks from the head!" and "Why Sales Training Doesn't Work."

Ian has an insatiable hunger for studying selling and people management and has passionately pursued answers to the question "How come some people can sell and most can't?"

Download Ian's latest white paper on how to recession proof your sales team in the next 90 days from http://www.salestutor.com.au/Content_Common/pg-Salestutor-Tools-and-Resources-Articles-and-Whitepapers.seo

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