Never answer an unasked question!

by | Nov 2, 2007

I was working with one of my sales reps yesterday on a sales opportunity.  Very common situation, very common mistake, very expensive!

The client is asking for custom work that we bill for by the hour.  So, we’re on the phone with the client and we’re estimating the potential cost for the custom work he’s requested.

He’s giving us good signs… we throw out an estimated cost for something and he says things like “that’s reasonable”, etc.  We’re getting excited.  Its not everyday you meet a customer willing to skip the hemming and hawing about price.

Without promting from the client, the sales rep starts to talk about estimated costs in terms of ranges.  Bad idea!
What did the rep do wrong?

Effectively a ceiling was put on our billings to the client.  He’ll forever have the top of the range he was given in his mind as the “worst case” scenario in terms of his cost.

That’s a common situation and the mistake is subtle but, also common.

Its human nature to talk when your nervous or excited.  You fill the air with words when you’re juices are flowing and the client’s not talking.  I’m not sure I know how to fix that.  It happens to the best of us.

What I do know is that when you answer a question that has not been asked, you’re unnecessarily limiting the shape of the deal.  Your job as a sales person is to understand the picture the client has in their mind – what did they come into your “store” looking to buy?  How does your product or service fit that picture?  That’s what you want to tell the client.

If you tell them how you fit their picture based on your own assumptions, your forcing the client to buy what you think he wants, not what he’s looking for.

Let him retain the image in his mind unaltered.  Its what his heart and mind really wants to spend money on.

So, what do we have here?  A stand off?  Do we stare the client down and wait for him to “break” and start talking first?

No, just ask questions.  Its that simple.  When your juices are flowing you may not be able to keep your mouth shut.  Just be sure that what comes out are questions.

How does that sound to you?

Is that what you’re looking for?

What else are you looking for?

To finish the story – later in the conversation, the client explained that he was currently spending money with a consultant to band aid his situation at a rate that would justify his spending 10x the highest amount my rep offered up.  We left a lot of money on the table.

More important, the cost “range” put our collective creative minds in a “box” in terms of potential solutions.  The solutions we or the client may have dreamed up outside of the box may have been 10x more valuable to the client’s business as compared to the cost.

Take some time the next time you’re stuck in traffic and rehearse 3 to 5 simple open ended questions you can ask next time you feel that uncomfortable silence.

Happy Selling!