Photo: By baboon on Flickr
This post, the second in a four-part series, is also part of the HBR Insight centre Growing the Top Line.“What’s keeping you up at night?”
This one question is probably asked by more sales people in a given day than any other. But while it seems innocuous — maybe even the right thing to ask a customer — it’s a question that simultaneously prevents sales while also destroying customer loyalty.
To understand what makes this question so destructive, we need to first understand where it comes from. For years, most sales training has focused on a single core principle: the shortest path to sales success is a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. If we can understand what’s keeping customers up at night, we can build tight linkages between their problems and our solutions, thereby improving our chances of selling something.
As a result, companies have poured money into teaching their reps to ask better questions. But while it sounds great on paper, this approach suffers from two major problems. First, improving reps’ ability to diagnose needs on the fly proves colossally difficult — especially among average performers. Second, and more to the point, this approach is based on a deeply flawed assumption: customers actually know what they need in the first place.
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