The TACTIC: Don't give salespeople answers.
It had been two weeks since Art had spoken to Janice, a sales manager herself. She had been one of his customers before he had been promoted to sales manager. Since that time, he had found that her advice on “selling” his sales staff as he had sold customers made a lot of sense. It worked, much to his amazement.
“Oh,” said Diane, who had been Art’s first new hire, “Don’t mean to interrupt, but I needed to tell you something.”
“I appreciate that,” responded Art with a smile, “what is it that you need?”
“I’m having real problems getting appointments that are worth going to.” She stopped speaking and stared at Art.
“By “worth going to” . . . you mean . . .”
“Oh, well . . . I can usually talk people into meeting with me ‘since I’ll be in the area’ but almost every one of those appointments is either canceled when I get there, or the person I meet with doesn’t even remember why I’m there. So I’m out all day, and nothing gets closed.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
Diane looked at him for second, wondering if he was even listening. “Just great,” she said in an exasperated voice, “I drive all over just to have the door shut in my face.”
“You might find this question a little upsetting . . .” said Art, looking at Diane, “if you could have it the way you want, how would it be?”
“That’s easy. I’d like to make appointments that result in something besides running up mileage.”
“I understand. Is it fair to say the way you have been making appointments needs to change?”
Diane stared over Art’s shoulder for a second or so. “That makes sense . . . how do I do that?”
“You’re ahead of me. Let me ask you this; if you want appointments that result in something, what do you need from the person who makes them?”
“A commitment to listen to me.” The words just popped out of Diane’s mouth.
“Are you getting that commitment when you make the appointment?” asked Art.
“Never thought of that. I’m not. That’s it. Thanks for listening.”
Art did not tell Diane what to do at any stage in their conversation.
Did Art ever tell Diane what the problem was? Not once. In fact, all he did was ask questions that facilitated Diane’s discovering what the problem was and what might be a solution to her problem.
Diane’s appointment problem is not unusual for new salespeople. Lots of appointments, lots of mileage, and zero sales. Every sales manager, who has this type of sales organization, has seen this problem.
Would it have been easier for Art to tell Diane what the problem was and then tell her to get a commitment? It certainly would have saved him from taking the time to ask the questions.
If Art had just told her the solution, consider what Diane would have learned: That when there is a sales problem, just take it to Art and have him solve it. If his solution doesn’t work, hey, it was his solution. I’ll just go back and tell him that his solution didn’t work and what does he want me to do next?
Would telling Diane the solution solve her appointment problem or just create the situation for future management problems? Diane will not have learned to solve her problems, but to depend on someone else to solve them.
By asking facilitating questions, you can help the salesperson discover her own problem and potential solution. While you may think you know exactly what the need is, you can never know for sure until you dig down and see what’s going on. And you dig by asking facilitating questions.
What is important to you about . . .?
How is that important?
If you could have it the way you want, how would that be?
What does this get you or do for you?
What’s getting in the way of your solving the problem?
What stops you?
What happens when . . .?
How will you know when . . .?
What do you need in order to . . .?
What do you need in order to ask facilitating questions? Go ahead, answer that. Note your answers.
Showing someone how to solve a problem is infinitely better than solving the problem for her.
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