How to discover what your customer really wants

Buyers don’t like being sold to. Ask the right questions either face to face or virtually and buyers will open up and tell you what they want. You then have permission to sell.

Buyers don’t like being sold to. Ask the right questions either face to face or virtually and buyers will open up and tell you what they want. You then have permission to sell.

There are numerous ways to discover what your customer really wants – surveys, analysing online feedback, interviews, focus groups. However, to survive and thrive SMEs still have to sell. Most people don’t like being sold to.  Yet everyone is open to influence. To influence an individual or a group there are three things that must be in place – self-confidence, credibility and connection. If you want to connect, ask questions. If you sell without gathering information you are selling blind, and you will probably be seen as pushy and manipulative. Master the art of questioning and you will discover what your customer really wants and needs, and you smooth the path to a positive result: a sale.

Salespeople and ‘C’ Suite influencers spend too much time pitching and not enough time taking an interest in discovering the prospect’s / buyer’s real concerns and issues, as well as the hot buttons they need to press to get someone to buy. Many people buy emotionally and then justify logically, so you must identify both what your buyer needs (must have) and wants (like to have).

What is the way through all this? Ask great questions.

Why? Ask questions effectively and you will demonstrate genuine interest, rather than a focus on making the sale. Questions encourage emotional involvement, and you will identify what really matters so that you can build greater levels of rapport and help address the key concerns of the buyer / organisation. 

Questions really are the answer. So, what 7 core principles will help guide you?

Start with an attitude of curiosity

Asking intelligent questions comes from an attitude of curiosity. You are on a ‘quest’ for information. Anyone who has kids knows that if they are curious about something they will quite naturally ask questions. Curiosity is infectious. 

Have a clear outcome for your questions

Get real clarity: what am I trying to achieve by asking questions? This avoids asking unnecessary or random questions.

Let the conversation flow naturally

Good questioning techniques do not mean that you become an interrogator. Avoid the clipboard approach. 

 Use both open and closed questions

Open questions start with who, why, what, how, where and when. Closed questions elicit a yes/no answer. Start with open questions to elicit information. There will be more open questions in a typical sales conversation. Use closed questions for clarification and agreement.

Make your questions easy to understand

Too many sales questions are unintelligible. People use multiple questions, or ask a question and then answer it themselves, or ask a question that has no real link to what is being discussed. Often the simple sales questions are the most powerful. 

  • What do you want?
  • What are your key priorities?
  • What is really going to make the difference?
  • What is working for you now?
  • What’s important to you about collaborating with an external supplier?

Ask questions that help you pinpoint the dominant buying motivations

You can find out what motivates your buyer – what they want – by asking simple questions such as: ‘What kind of similar products or services have you bought in the past?’. The knowledge you gain will tell you what benefits to emphasise.

Avoid offending your buyers!

Some questions can offend a prospect and cause them to reject you and your solutions.

Avoid leading or ‘set up’ questions such as, ‘You do want your children to have a fair chance, don’t you?’. What is the prospect going to say? ‘No! It’s a tough world – let them sink or swim!’

Sometimes your manner can be threatening. Instead of asking, ‘How much do you want to spend?’, why not phrase it, ‘How much had you planned to invest?’.

Customers prioritise buying from companies that that they feel listen to what they need and provide what they want. Focus on influencing, build the relationship, develop trust, ask the right questions and really listen to the answers. Avoid selling until you know what your customer wants. Then the magic can begin.

Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird
Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

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