Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

IMAGINE WALKING into a doctor’s office and sitting down in front of a physician. Before you start to explain what is wrong with you, your doctor pulls out a prescription pad and starts to write down the names of medicines you need to pick up from the pharmacy. Little wonder that with all the illnesses and symptoms you might have, and all the pharmaceutical products available, the doctor almost certainly will have prescribed totally inappropriate, probably costly and potentially dangerous drugs.

Sound far-fetched? Well this is what salespeople attempt to do every day. They meet with their clients and without asking questions to uncover customer’s problems and needs, quite happily prescribe a solution that is oftentimes inappropriate and costly.

This is one of the reasons why a visit to the doctors is called a “consultation.” It provides the doctor with an opportunity to find out what is wrong so that he can prescribe an appropriate and efficacious solution which fully addresses the illness of his patient. Why is selling any different? Surely the objective of a sales call should be to establish if the client has any problems or needs that can be addressed by the product that the salesperson in selling.

Uncovering important information which will help to match products or services against the client’s needs is what selling is all about. If a salesperson fails to do this, he will miss the opportunity of finding out what the customer really wants and needs. And if the client is not given the opportunity to provide input about his needs, it will be no surprise when the salesperson offers an inappropriate product or service.

Admittedly, there are times when a customer’s problems and needs are self-evident. The salesperson may have a very clear idea of what the customer needs. Back to our earlier analogy: if a doctor is presented with someone with a severe fracture, it will be clear that the bone needs to be reset and the patient may need a course of antibiotics and a tetanus shot to prevent further complications. However, consider this. Confidence in the physician will not be high if he takes a cursory glance at the injury and refers the patient to “emergency” to have the bone set.

Over the last couple of years, I have seen more than my fair share of doctors. Some good; some bad. Nobody likes seeing a doctor! What is interesting is that some of the specialists I have seen are the most highly rated physicians in their field. However, their bedside manner leaves much to be desired. I don’t feel I can discuss symptoms and ailments. They tell and assume (using their great medical knowledge and skills, I’m sure) rather than asking and confirming. No, give me the doctor who takes time to find out how I am feeling and helps me buy into the treatment regimen he is prescribing.

Customers are no different. Where the purchase is expensive or complex and requires the client to give significant thought to the purchase, it is really important that he buys into the solution. So for every reason, engaging the customer by asking questions is a critical skill for a salesperson. The professional salesperson takes nothing at face value. He or she spends time to talk to the customer to find out what is important; to establish why there may be a need for his products or services. Only then does he pull out his prescription pad and propose an appropriate solution.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.