The Bridge of Whys

Robert-photo-w-icon-150-4-7-10-FINAL4-150x150The best sales people have developed proven methods that help them discover a customer’s current needs. They are so comfortable with their technique that they often reject any refinement, even though they realize that an improvement could make them even more effective.

If the purpose is to win a transaction, then devotion to an existing discovery process may be enough. But if the objective is to consistently earn a customer’s business, to earn that customer’s preference and build an enduring relationship, then the established method may fail to demonstrate a commitment level that compels the customer’s attention beyond the current need.

Probing a customer’s needs is easier when using a process that has been productive hundreds of times before. It helps sustain focus when a customer is responding to inquiries and communicates credibility as a consequence of the obvious comfort level with the questions. When the problem to be solved is technical, the impulse to probe the current situation in greater detail, and never go beyond, is even stronger.

But working in isolation to solve only a customer’s immediate problem or need, without learning why this is important to the customer, wastes the leverage of your expertise and costs you the opportunity to be distinctive.  Resolving the stated problem or need may be worth doing, but doing it so that your solution supports their goals and longer-term plan is more compelling.

Asking “why” and “how” questions about a customer’s urgent, near-term problem uncovers a deeper motivation connected with his or her plans. The answers to these questions enable the development of proposed solutions that contribute to the customer’s long-term success, building a bridge that closes the gap between current need and future opportunity. It reveals a commitment to produce more value, for a longer period of time, than was expected.  Their recognition of this commitment encourages them to collaborate on the proposed solution – it’s the most obvious, lowest risk thing for them to do.

Fight the impulse to probe only the comfortable parameters of the customer’s stated existing need. Probe the future and build a “bridge of whys” to learn how to partner with the customer long term.

How comfortable is your sales team with discovering customer goals?

What stops them from asking questions that can deliver enduring value for the customer?


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