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Salespeople should tell not ask

Nov 20, 2020

What Fred, have you lost your mind!?!

You’ve been telling us for ages, that it is always ‘ask before tell’ or that ‘prescription without diagnosis is malpractice’. What are you talking about now?

What I’m talking about is that in difficult times, asking customers questions might not be so helpful.

Indeed, the question ‘How can I help?’ can be the least helpful. It’s no help to you it’s no help to a customer.

Eh? Help us out a bit here Fred…

The customer probably doesn’t know what issues they have and/or how you could get involved to assist so they are probably going to say to reduce price. Also, it’s not really positioning you as a trusted adviser, as someone who can be a genuine problem solver.

Instead, as the ‘go to’ person we should lead with insight. We should share valuable information that will help a customer make sense of things. Shining a new light on issues and offering a different perspective is where we can add value

So, technically, this isn’t really telling, but it is certainly taking the lead. It is being able to say, ‘I recognise that there are these challenges you have’ or ‘I can see that these are things that are going to affect you’. It is showing that you understand.

Think about the impact of this approach

‘Here are some areas we have identified that might be causing problems, and here are some things that we’re doing about it. Here are some ideas that we have seen that work to address current challenges’

Essentially, we are saying that here are some potential opportunities that we can proceed together on. This can lead into the opportunity to collaborate, to co-create and to use all the sales skills that enhance the modern way of selling.

So, how can a salesperson generate insight to use with customers?

– Share facts and figures
– Illustrate trends
– Show gaps (in knowledge, market activity, performance)
– Conduct a SWOT (from the customer’s perspective)
– Run scenarios with them
– Tell a story

Stories. People love stories.

Stories are incredibly persuasive as, when people hear stories, they link to their own experiences. Stories conjure memories and stir emotions and listeners are better able to remember content when it has influenced emotions.

It is thought people will recall up to 22 times more than when faced with facts and figures alone. When the brain is presented with factual information, only two of its regions activate. FMRI studies show that storytelling causes many additional areas to light up. The brain responds to the story events as if they were actually happening to the listener.

When the brain sees or hears a story, its neurons fire in the same patterns as the speaker’s brain. This is known as ‘neural coupling’. In this process mirror neurons create a kind of mind synch between a speaker’s brain and the brains of their audience members. Engaged emotions create empathy with the speaker.

This is why storytelling is a powerful way to communicate information, build relationships, sell ideas, and inspire others. Weaving these into ways of working and leading conversations, is how a sales professional can add value in the current climate.

There are a number of story structures that can be used in sales including the Pixar Pitch and the Hero’s Journey. But of the purpose of what we are trying to achieve here the good old Case Study or Success Story will work well. For this the most basic structure can be used to prepare information to share

Company or Sector – to show it is relevant to the customer you are speaking to

Key Challenge – what issue, concern or potential opportunity did they have

Solution – how did you help (overview, no need to be too detailed as it will take the conversation away from being about them

Result or Value – a big number and/or quote

It could be as simple as:

‘I was working with a customer who is similar to you and they were experiencing <challenge>. We were able to do <solution> with them. They were really happy as it meant <result>. In fact one of the senior management team said <quote>’

The idea is to demonstrate an understanding of their situation and initiate dialogue

It’s not really about old-fashioned pitching products and services, it is about starting discussions with useful information. It’s ‘telling’, but not quite as we know it.


Fred Copestake is founder of Brindis, a sales training consultancy.
Over the last 22 years he has travelled round the world 14 times visiting 36 countries to work with over 10,000 salespeople.
His book ‘Selling Through Partnering Skills’ looks at the evolving world of sales and sets out what salespeople need to do to refine their approach. It explores how to take things to the next level through understanding partnering intelligence and using the innovative VALUE Framework.

Contact: https://linktr.ee/fredcopestake

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash