This is NOT a bitter accusation directed at customers past and future. It is a way to think about the phenomenon of less-than-truthfulness that occurs every day in the life of any sales professional. Most people are fundamentally honest, but we all “manipulate” the truth on a daily basis – mostly for convenience or comfort’s sake. For example, you are eating at a restaurant in your local neighborhood when the manager approaches and says, “How is everything?” Whether or not we are completely satisfied with the food, our instinctive reply will likely be some version of “it’s fine” unless the food is cold or horribly prepared, etc. The point is, in the mind of the restaurant manager, everything is “fine” so he moves on to the next table completely unaware that your true feelings may be, “this really wasn’t a great meal, the service was just okay, and I doubt we will return.”
This phenomenon is all too common in sales. The solution is as simple as the sales professional taking the time to ask some clarifying questions. In the case of the “restaurant manager” scenario, asking a question along the lines of “I am so happy you are satisfied. What did you like the most about your experience with our restaurant?” is a great way to start the process of “peeling back the onion” on what the patron’s true thoughts were. A few more questions might uncover a quality control issue that has popped up with a new line cook, which can quickly be repaired. “Was your burger cooked to your satisfaction?” would bring clarity to one of the most frequent restaurant patron complaints.
In the world of selling, our customers apply the “everything is fine” tactic on a regular basis. Telling a sales person that everything is great then doing business elsewhere is much easier than sharing true concerns. It is the responsibility of the sales professional to uncover the truth. One of the most underappreciated qualities of great sales professionals is the ability to “push back” with a prospect or customer and ask clarifying questions to challenge a statement like “everything is fine” or “we are happy with our current supplier.” As sales professionals, we can use clarifying questions to ensure satisfaction among existing customers or to uncover opportunity where other sales professionals have failed. While it is true that no one wins an argument with a customer, asking clarifying questions that facilitate candid feedback will only strengthen the customer relationship and will definitely result in more closed sales.
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