The third and least painful sales question to ask

Remember last week we covered the first two great needs identification questions.  They were:

  1. Ask about optimal performance.
  2. Ask about actual performance, in order to locate a gap.

Now let’s talk about what you do next.  The difference between optimal and actual will almost always expose a gap:  “I’d like everyone to pay me in 30 days (optimal) but in fact 30% of my receivables are 60 days out (actual).”

So your third question in this neat sequence is easy.  Did you guess it right?

  1. Ask what causes the gap between optimal and actual.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedEasy as that.  So in our receivables example just above, your question might be, “Given your desire to be paid on time and the way customers are paying you now, there must be a reason. What do you think causes this?”  And now you can help the customer through effective probing to get to the root causes of his problem.  Let him draw the conclusions about what’s not right.  And for heaven’s sake don’t you do it!

Why?  Because people are resistant to conversations about pain, fear and loss, that’s why.

In a previous post I cited the social experiments that have been done with pain and fear of loss.  You’re offered a gamble on a coin toss. If it’s tails, you lose $100. If it’s heads, you win $150.  Would you accept this gamble?  To make this decision, you have to weigh the psychological impact of a $150 gain versus a $100 loss.  Although the expected value of the gamble is clearly positive, you probably dislike it. Most people do, as their fear of losing $100 is far more intense than their hope of gaining $150.  In many experiments similar to this one, psychologists and economists have concluded that losses loom larger than gains and that most people are loss averse.

But it’s deeper than that. People not only don’t like to lose; they don’t like to talk about losing. I imagine if you’re reading this you are in the sales business and at one point you read or were told that you have to uncover and explore the “pain points,” and this is not wrong. But it’s how you uncover them and how you explore them that makes all the difference.

You simply cannot say to your customer, “Where are you feeling the pain?” or “What keeps you up at night?”  Aside from being trite, they attempt to get the customer to talk about something he doesn’t want to discuss. If you’ve had problems getting to the pain discussion it’s probably because you approached it too directly, and awkwardly, with questions like this.

To sell more effectively, you have to take your time and let the conversation evolve. Find out what is most important to your client and what it is he is trying to achieve.  Only after this is done should you ask very granular questions about how he is doing things now and then what he thinks are the causes of his problems.

If you’re astute and know your products and services well, you’ll soon be able to spot the gap between what the client wants most, and the way things are happening now.  That’s where the so-called pain is, but you’re never going to call it that are you?  Just keep pecking away, and avoid putting your customer in a painful corner.  That’s how you…

Think Like Your Customer

Next week we’ll finish up with the fourth and fifth steps of the model.  I know they’ll work for you as well as they work for me in my practice.

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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