In our race for optimal efficiency we often miss great opportunities to sell more.

Customers contact printers in order to solve communication challenges. They often have a very specific challenge. If you have an efficiency mindset, you immediately drill down into the customer’s specific challenge and start solving it for them. This is appropriate behavior AND it could be improved.  One well-formed big picture question can open up another level of business between you and the customer.

Many think of this as a sales role, but your customer service team speaks with many more customers than your sales team.

For example, last month I was shopping for banners for a film festival I was launching. I found a printer near the venue and placed a call (because I could not easily order online ;-). The service was excellent but nobody asked me one question about what I needed the banners for. I was putting on a film festival that required quite a bit of signage and the plan is for this festival to be an on-going event.

The call was pure transactional.

The business was pure transactional.

The relationship is now forgettable – even though the person on the other line provided excellent customer service.

There was an opportunity for a relationship.

What is the alternative?

The CSR answers the call, listens carefully to my specific challenge, and then asks just one big picture question about what my overall project is about? What is your event? A well-formed question displays my favorite human characteristic: CURIOSITY.  When you are curious you are sending two strong messages to the customer; 1) you are listening, 2) you are interested in what they are trying to accomplish.

You know why we hate traditional sales people? Because they are only interested in what they are trying to accomplish (sell you)! We have all been on way too many conversations with sales people that focus on one thing – their needs. This is displaying my least favorite human characteristic: NARCISSISM.

The well-formed question can be so powerful, if and only if, you ask it and then shut up and listen. The well-formed question is not as easy to form as you might think. We make a lot of mistakes when asking questions to discover new information. Here are a few common mistakes:

  1. You ask a multiple choice question which tells the customer you want a short answer. Don’t ask a question like this; What kind of event are you putting on? A sports event? A community event? A political event? This is not the SAT, there are not a clear set of acceptable answers, and trying to guess does not make you look smarter – it opens you up to getting it wrong. Ask an open-ended question and then let the customer take it in any direction they please.
  2. You make assumptions instead of asking questions. The first rule of sales discovery is “make no assumptions” – too many sales are lost by people who think they know, get it wrong, and miss the opportunity. Don’t guess, don’t assume, those are all tactics to prove your worth. A customer is more likely to buy from you if they feel you care first and foremost. If you’re making assumptions and guesses, you are trying to show the customer you know better than them (which you don’t). If you listen and ask well-formed questions, you tell the customer they matter and you are curious!
  3. You don’t listen and you ask questions about subjects they have already covered. This might be the worst possibly outcome. Listening is the first step in developing trust, if you’re not willing to listen – you don’t have much of a chance at evolving above a transactional level relationship. Big picture challenges require a shared context between you and the customer. You need to understand what they are trying to accomplish and then you need to use your expertise to help them get there. This requires listening and learning from each other.

There is nothing more important than the well-formed question. A couple of my favorite ones:

  1. How do you accomplish this today? (customer describes a pain they have which they are obviously not happy with, you ask how they get that done today)?
  2. What would you measure in order to gauge success? (customer describes something they want to achieve)
  3. How much time do you spend on this activity? (people often discount their time)
  4. What would you do with that time if someone else was performing that task? (follow up the previous question)
  5. How would you describe wild success? (often the customer’s perspective of success isn’t obvious)

Understanding doesn’t take a lot of knowledge, it actually just takes good listening skills and the ability to ask a well-formed question. Customers want to talk about themselves, the only way you’ll find out their bigger challenges if to ask the question and listen.