Many salespeople wait patiently at their desks for the phone to ring so they can write sales orders with existing and new customers.  

When the phone rings they are all about getting the order, and if need be, jumping through hoops to satisfy the client and demonstrate their customer centered service.  Until the phone rings, they are busy doing stuff, but then they go into “super customer service mode” attempting to capitalize on every whim of the customer.  Regardless of the direction of the economy, top salespeople will not just seek to satisfy the initial need of the client or prospect.  They will ask probing questions to understand the full breadth and scope of the opportunity.  Let me make a broad assumption and suggest that average salespeople typically do not investigate all of the customer’s needs, whether they are talking on the phone or visiting in person.  Salespeople miss out on sales opportunities every day because their minds are shrouded in the fog of mediocrity, trying to solve only the obvious.  They are so intent on meeting the customer’s immediate need, they fail to discover the bigger picture.  The thing the client needs may only be one element of the grand scheme.  Salespeople become so narrowly focused in fulfilling that one thing, that they overlook other opportunities which may represent far greater potential and profit.

Seek understanding by asking more question.  What do you want to know?  You want to understand how the particular need the customer is discussing, fits into the bigger picture of what they are trying to accomplish.  Just like a news reporter, ask the who, what, where, why, when and how questions to discover all you can about their company’s situation.  What the customer initially tells you, may be just the tip of the iceberg of their total needs.  Ask questions to learn how to better meet the client’s requirements, and remember to ask permission to ask questions.  Asking permission is a courtesy that will put the customer in a “question answering” frame of mind.  Seeking to understand the bigger picture will also convey the message that you are interested in them and want to help satisfy all of their needs.

Let me share a fun little story about a young salesman who turned a small need into a much larger sale.

A young salesman landed a new job with a large “everything under one roof” department store.  The hiring manager indicated that at the end of his first day that he would personally evaluate the salesman’s performance.  The young man’s first day on the job was rough but he got through it and subsequently found himself sitting in the manager’s office for his first day’s performance review.


The manager asked the young man how many sales he had made and he replied, only one.  Somewhat surprised by his answer, the manager responded that the average salesperson for the store usually made between twenty or thirty sales in a typical day.  The manager then asked the young man the dollar value of the sale.  He responded that the sale totaled $101,237.64.  The manager responded by saying “What in the world did you sell”?  The young man responded by saying that he first sold the customer a small fishing hook, followed by a medium sized fishing hook, which was followed by an even larger fishing hook.  The young man continued by saying that he then sold the customer a new fishing rod.  After asking the customer where he planned to go fishing, the young man suggested to the customer that he might need a new boat, so he took the customer down to the boat department and sold him a 29 foot Catalina twin engine fishing boat.


With this, the customer suggested that he didn’t think his Honda Civic would be able to pull the boat, so the young man took his customer out to the automotive department and sold him a Chevy Tahoe to pull the boat.  The manager in total amazement said, “A guy comes in to buy a fishing hook and you sold him a boat and a Chevy Tahoe?”  The young man replied, “No.  He came into the store to buy some Excedrin Migraine for his wife” and I said, “Well, your weekend is shot, you might just as well go fishing!”

This is an entertaining story, but it also suggests salespeople might be missing out on some serious opportunities by not asking questions to discover the full scope of the customer’s needs.  Think to yourself these two questions:  (1) “Do I know all I can about this customer and his or her needs?”  (2) “Do I know as much as they know, combined with my own knowledge and experience, so I can provide solutions to satisfy the whole opportunity?”  Make these principles part of your sales skills and watch your income increase.  At the same time, you will be doing a far better job of meeting your customer’s needs.