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An important question to ask

by Troy Harrison

Troy HarrisonSometimes, the most important questions that you ask aren’t the ones you ask your customer. Sometimes, the most important question can be one that you ask yourself. I saw an example of this recently; I was discussing a particular sales call with a salesperson who worked for a client. After describing the call, he said, very frustrated, “Troy, I just don’t understand WHY they didn’t buy!”

“Don’t you?” I asked. He started to respond, and I said, “Hold on. Think about that question before you answer, and give it some real thought. Why didn’t they buy?”

He took a minute or two, and then – grudgingly – admitted that the customer might have had some legitimate reasons for not buying (at least in the customer’s mind). “But,” he said, “If he’d raised those objections, I could have dealt with them.” Ultimately, the salesperson failed not because of the questions he asked the customer, but because of a question he didn’t ask HIMSELF.

That question is, “Why WOULDN’T they buy from me?” I know, I know. This runs contrary to so much sales teaching, where we are supposed to focus on the reasons why the customer would buy. However, sometimes, understanding and anticipating why the customer wouldn’t buy is the best way to give the customer reasons TO buy. As I’ve noted before, the buying decision (particularly in the B2B world) is typically based on logic first, with emotion second. You’re a logical, thinking human being, just like your customer. Why not mentally take a moment or two during the sale, process the information given as your customer would, and ask yourself what you would do given the same set of parameters?

True consultative selling (which most salespeople claim to be, yet few really are) requires you to mentally place yourself on the same side of the desk as the customer, process the given information against the needs, and – as a CONSULTANT – help the customer better his/her condition through a purchase. Again, that’s not a suggestion – it’s a requirement. And when you do that, what do you find? Do you recognize that it’s truly a good spend, or do you discover that the situation is more like one of these?

The customer doesn’t know enough to buy (or you don’t know enough to sell): During the Investigation phase of the selling process (if you need clarification on that, it’s fully explained in my book), the customer is seeking a full discovery of needs, and then a complete matching of product or service to fit these needs. Notice that I said “full discovery” and “complete matching;” this requires a comprehensive questioning and then a full presentation. Doing this can be scary for the salesperson. Salespeople will settle for incomplete discovery and partial presentation if they can suggest the solution to a need through it. Rest assured that the complete set of needs is still within the customer’s head – and if you haven’t fully probed it, they’ll buy from a salesperson who will.

You don’t solve their problem or improve their condition: Customers buy because they believe the money is better spent than saved; products that solve problems or improve condition justify the spend. This is where the salesperson enters a ‘pushing the rope uphill’ scenario. Once again, if you were the customer, what would you do? Would you spend on a product or service that didn’t create an improvement? I’m guessing that you would not. So why would your customer?

You don’t represent good value for the money: Even if you solve the problem or improve the condition, and even if you have fully discovered needs and presented, this one can get you. Salespeople always interpret this objection as a simple “price” objection, which is only true a minority of the time. Ultimately, if you’re asking the customer to spend more money or new money, the additional spend must be justified. Is it? Again, place yourself on the same side of the table, divorce your emotions, and ask yourself if what the customer gets for the money is truly justified?

Relationship issues: This is where emotion enters into it. If you’re trying to break an existing relationship, you have a bar to leap over, and your customer sets the height of that bar. If you haven’t probed the relationship with their current supplier (which many salespeople don’t, out of fear), you won’t be able to understand where that bar is set – never mind knowing how to jump over it.

Ultimately, successful selling is an information exchange – both sides give information, both sides receive information, and both sides process the information. Only by understanding how your customer processes the information can you understand how and why your customer will buy. So, my advice is this: Late in the sales call, ask yourself this question: “Why WOULDN’T they buy from me?” And be honest. Your own answer might surprise you – and help you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and the president of SalesForce Solutions, a sales training, consulting and recruiting firm. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, or


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