Busting Your Assumptions: Effective Probing Techniques for Sales Professionals

Do you find yourself making these kinds of assumptions?

- "I lost the sale because my price was too high."

- "I know exactly what my customer wants."

- "I can't hold a member of my team accountable for the delays in our project because she won't like me if I do."

- "I don't delegate often enough because I know I can do the work better myself. "

These assumptions may be correct. However, they also might only be partially right or they might be absolute bunk.

The problem with assumptions is that we are certain they are true. We unquestioningly believe, for example, that if we ask a customer about their needs, we look stupid (shouldn't I instinctively know their needs?).

Also, making assumptions can easily lead to a negative outcome in our dealings with customers. For instance, I go nuts when a salesperson starts solving my problems when they haven't asked me about my situation. I know I am not alone here.

Listen to yourself this week as a mini-test. If you are doing more talking than asking, you're probably making a lot of assumptions. If your opinion is front and center and you are not curious about what someone else is thinking, then you have definitely crossed the border into assumption-land.

One way to stop making assumptions is to ask a lot more questions.

Here are five powerful questions that can help you check out whether an assumption is true, and, in the process, connect more effectively with your customers.

1. "Tell me more."

2. "What do you need?"

3. "What about this is important to you?"

4. "How will this make a difference in your work?

Then confirm your understanding by asking:

5. "So, if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is ? Right?"

Notice that you cannot get a one-word answer to the above questions. The art of selling is to have customers explain, at length, what their situation is, and what they want to do about it. It is not about you blabbering on about your products and services.

To develop the asking-questions muscle, start your questions with the following key words: What, why, tell me, describe, explain.

To build muscle, you'll need to practice everywhere. Look for at least one opportunity a day to engage someone in conversation. You can pick anyone: family, friends, customers, colleagues, peers, superiors, strangers, cabbies, waiters, or the guy next to you on the bus. Try to pick a topic that the individual can address for at least five to ten minutes, and try to keep your opinion to yourself, even if you have strong views.

Just ask more questions, and see where the conversation takes you.

Have fun with it! You will be taking steps toward opening up your mind, recognizing the assumptions you make, and, most importantly, working with customers in a way that they value.

---

This article may be reprinted in its entirety with express written permission from Nicki Weiss. The reprint must include the section "About the Author".

About the Author

Nicki Weiss is an internationally recognized Certified Professional Sales Management Coach, Master Trainer, and workshop leader. Since 1992, Nicki has trained, certified, and/or coached more than 6,000 business executives, sales managers and salespeople.

Nicki guarantees increased sales performance when sales managers become better sales coaches. Sign up for her FREE monthly e-zine, Something for NothingTM, which has powerful tips and techniques for sales managers who are ready to make this transformation. Sign up at http://www.saleswise.ca You can email her at nicki@saleswise.ca or call 416-778-4145.

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