Understanding customer needs

Business of online sales is growing. However a large proportion of business is still transacted through Personal Sales. Field sales people in these companies always say, in training and development programmes, that their job is essentially that of fulfilling the Customer’s needs. They are very honest when they say this, and sincerely try to do so. But the point is this. Are these salespeople clear on how to first understand the need of a given customer and then try to fulfil that need with feature(s) of the product and service?  Or, do salespeople aim to fulfil an assumed need?

Sadly, quite a few salespeople fall into the latter category.  The key rule in personal selling is: Never present a feature unless the need is clear:

  1. Need as recognized by the Customer.
  2. Not the need for a product, but need in the usage of product.
  3. Need as shaped by preferences of the Customer as an individual.

The power of asking questions

Asking questions and developing good listening skills is the only way to do all of the above. Any training and development event for improving your understanding of the customer must include training on questioning techniques.

Knowing how to ask questions and what questions create what effects, is the art and science of asking questions. Effective communication also emphasizes listening skills and therefore use of good questions is part of training and development for active listening skills. If the participants of Chinese Whispers were encouraged or allowed to ask questions to the previous person, the end message might be less distorted!

Open questions start with the following words: What, Where, Why, How, Who, When, Which. An open question is called so since the person who asks questions is open to information. Using more open questions is very helpful to define the Customer’s requirements well. The open questions by which we do not give any direction to Customer’s answer are called as Open Neutral Questions (ONQ). If the open question aims to influence the Customer’s answer in a particular direction then it is called an Open Leading Question (OLQ). Asking good OLQ requires great listening skills, because you have to formulate it quickly based on what the Customer is saying to you in response to an ONQ.

If the question is such that we are only seeking either decision or confirmation or both, of what we believe we know, then we are closed to information and hence it is a closed question. Such a question would normally start with words Is, Am, Are, Do, Can, Have. While there is a time and place to ask closed questions, too many of them and asked without motivation can irritate the Customer since it looks like a detective.

Funnel Technique for asking questions – A powerful tool to encourage the flow of conversation

‘Funnel Technique’ is a proprietary working tool of Mercuri International. This is not to be confused with what is commonly called as a Sales Funnel – sometimes used for forecasting. Funnel Technique, which is a questioning technique, starts with motivating the Customer (existing or new), asking open neutral questions to get unbiased information, asking open leading questions to probe more deeply and closed questions to pinpoint precise requirements.  At the end of the funnel, summarizing improves the effectiveness of the sales call.

Further information

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