Will Customers Share Their Problems With You?

A senior executive at one of my client companies wrote me with the following question:

“Steve, we train our sales people to discover their prospective customers’ ‘problems.’ Does this make sense? I wouldn’t want to discuss my problems with a sales person until we had established a high level of trust.”

This executive is correct that a new prospect is not always ready to share their problems with a sales person they have just met.  But, if the sales person handles the situation correctly, it is possible for the customer to start sharing information about their problems, needs, interests and desires pretty quickly, long before they feel a “high level of trust” with the sales person.

How to Get Customers to Open Up Quickly

Imagine a sales person meeting with a prospective customer for the first time. The sales person is taking the customer through a PowerPoint deck, describing the history, products and services of his company. The customer is sitting across from the sales person, listening and watching. Throughout his presentation, the sales person stops, as he has been trained to do, to ask the customer questions about their business.  Is the customer likely to share much information?

Now, imagine that, instead of leafing through a PowerPoint deck, the sales person has engaged the prospective customer in an engaging, two-way dialogue. The content of this dialogue is not the history, products and services of the sales person’s company, but is focused on the prospective customer’s business. Is this customer more likely to share information than in the first scenario?

Of course.

Sales people who have gone through our Ditch the Pitch training have told me many stories about prospective customers warming up to them and sharing private information early in their relationship. The reasons are simple to understand:

  • People love to talk about themselves
  • People love it when someone else shows interest in what they care about
  • Conversation is a much more natural, comfortable means of information exchange than a PowerPoint-based monologue

This information sharing doesn’t happen all at once, but an engaging conversation “loosens up” a customer, and they become willing to share information, a bit at a time. As the conversation progresses, the customer becomes more comfortable, and more interested in sharing information because they start to see that it will benefit them if this sales person knows more about them.

Key Ditch the Pitch principles to get a customer you’ve just met to open up include:

  • Think Input Before Output — Shed any pre-conceived notions of how you plan to conduct the conversation. Listen closely to what the prospect says, and watch what the prospect does. Be prepared to modify your approach based on what you learn.
  • Say Less to Notice More — Ensure the customer does most of the talking.
  • Explore and Heighten the Conversation — As the dialogue unfolds, discover issues the customer really cares about, and then direct your questions and the conversation towards those issues.
  • Focus the Conversation on the Customer — Ensure that 95% of the subject matter of the conversation is about the customer, not about you.

If you Ditch the Pitch, and leave your PowerPoint deck back at your office, you will find that customers are much more willing to share information with you. Then, you can create a conversation that is interesting and relevant to the customer… which is much more likely to lead to a sale.

Here’s a helpful PowerPoint suggestion: Leave it for your competitors. Let them bore their customers.

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