Prospects Buy What They Need, Not a Sales Rep’s Rhetoric

Article originally published in

By Nancy Keny

How many sales calls begin with a presentation that sounds something like “Let me tell you about…” and then with a great deal of pride and enthusiasm the salespeople tell everything they know about their product or service and company?

They expound on why the product is so technically advanced and why the company’s service is so efficient.  They talk about the company’s long-standing reputation and how many awards it has received. And on and on.

When they have finished their “intellectual” assault, they ask confidently: “What do you think?” The prospect’s “intellectual” reply: “I want to think it over,” or “I think I’d like some more information,” or “I think your prices are too high,” or “Call me next week—I need awhile before I make my decision.” The list is endless.

When on a sales call, do you hear your voice more than your prospects? Do you find yourself explaining and educating to establish your credibility and expertise? Are you displaying your knowledge in the hopes of generating interest and enthusiasm? Are you discussing the features and benefits of your company and your product or service?

A help call, not a sales call

At the end of the sales call, your prospect has learned more about you and your services than you have learned about him. You didn’t find out much about how your prospect perceives sales people like you, about his preferences in doing business, how he prefers to make decisions, about what was tried in the past, or what has worked and what hasn’t.

After the sales call, when you are back in the office, do you find yourself trying to figure out some critical elements like budget information, the decision process or the commitment of the prospect? Are you unsure why some prospects buy from you and why some don’t?

Again, if you answer yes, you’re in trouble. You are relying on mind-reading, rather than on your ability to ask questions—especially the tough ones—and get answers.
If asking questions is difficult or uncomfortable for you, you’re probably finding it just as difficult to get your prospects to make commitments and decisions. The result: You do all the work and jump through all the hoops while your prospect’s sense of urgency seems to disappear and he becomes harder to reach.

So why do you continue this destructive behavior?
It’s more likely a combination of your fears (“Oh, I could never ask my prospect that,”) and your belief system (“Prospects aren’t going to reveal that information even if I do ask”). That can handicap and prevent you from breaking through the barriers to greater levels of success.

If you have ever found yourself in such a situation, then you probably forgot what may be the most important concept in selling: Prospects buy for their reasons, not yours.

Rarely has a barrage of features and benefits or a list of satisfied customers persuaded a prospect to buy something for which a need didn’t already exist. As a sales person, your sole focus should be to help the prospect uncover and discover what it is they want or need and don’t have, to help them get it and to leave them feeling good about the buying experience.

Adviser or adversary?

When the sales person starts out to get his needs met, the prospect feels she is being sold and questions the intent of the sales rep. Remember, people like to buy, they don’t like to be sold. Your effectiveness in helping them make that discovery is determined by what you ask, not what you tell them.

Also, don’t stop at merely finding out what they want.
Sample questions may sound like the following:

  • If you could improve one thing relating to (what you sell) what would it be?
  • What positive impact will result by improving this area?
  • What are the consequences of not improving that area?
  • What have you tried in the past?
  • What worked? What didn’t?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to fixing this?
  • How do you see yourself investing in this to get it taken care of?

When you stop attempting to get people to do what you want them to do and try to help them get what they want, they begin to see you as an adviser and a friend—not an adversary. This result in more sales for you and a significant reduction in the stress and frustration associated with selling.