There’s a lot going on during a typical sales call, and a lot of it stands in the way of getting a handle on a customer’s real problem. For one thing, we may flit from problem to problem like butterflies, without lighting on any one of them long enough. Or customers may not know what they really need, or may have started shopping for solutions before defining their problem.

Here are six ways to get past all that and discover what the real issues are:

  1. Take notes and use your customer’s language. If the customer says, “we need to pick up the pace in our fulfillment process,” it pays for you to say, “pick up the pace in fulfillment,” not “speed up fulfillment.” Mirroring like this shows you are on the same page and does a better job of connecting.
  2. Dig for more details. Paradoxically, the more time customers spend talking to you about little stuff, the more the big picture comes into focus. You begin to see the where things connect and what’s going on beneath the surface. Oh, and by the way, listening demonstrates that you care about the buyer.
  3. Ask for clarification. For example, “You said you need to pick up the pace in fulfillment. When you say pick up the pace, what do you mean exactly?”
  4. Ask what they’ve already thought about. Salespeople often forget this simple rule. They see a need, they have a solution, so they want to put the two together. But buyers aren’t babes in the woods. Before you propose a solution, be sure it’s not one that’s already been considered – or, worse, tried – and found wanting. Also, there are two other reasons to ask this: (1) You want to see how creative they are and (2) the answer may reveal that they have talked to your competition.
  5. Give them a choice of solutions. When your solution is offered as one of several choices they can make, it’s more compelling and results in more buy-in. For example: “There are a variety of ways to look at this problem. First, you could upgrade the current system. Second, you could leave the problem alone. Or, you could talk to Monolith Industries about their experience using our new system.” Rather than presenting your offering as the only choice, let them choose it over two less useful ones.
  6. Help them discover the advantages. Consider framing the discussion this way: “Let’s assume you choose this solution. What benefits do you see in making this choice?” The answer will reveal the value your customer places on the solution you’ve proposed. Most likely they will be ready to seal the deal at this point.

Source: Adapted from a post at

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