9 Hidden Questions
If we want to engage customers, we need to walk a mile in their shoes… but that’s easier said than done.
Working with companies around the world has exposed me to a lot of sales cultures, and the mechanics of selling differ from place to place.
Here in Asia, for example, stress is placed on commercial status, business community and networking, but in Europe and the US financial opportunity usually takes centre stage.
These differing motives can create a few fun moments.
I remember the CEO of a US sales company visiting his local team. He’d hired a high end sports car at the airport, and rocked up at the office in a whirl of metallic red and the snarl of a V12.
He ushered his team outside and took up a power pose next to the car. “If you work hard for me” he said, “one day you’ll own this car.”
‘What an arse’, they thought.
What they wanted was a company and career they could be proud of.
So, for a seasoned sales professional, this CEO was an amateur.
He’d forgotten the basic tenet of sales: if you want to provide a customer with the perfect solution, first you’ve got to find out what they want.
The temptation to talk about what matters to us, to boast about our own achievements, products or services can be overwhelming – and it almost always ends in failure.
If you spend most of your time talking about you instead of your customer, it’s a sign somethings going wrong.
We need to find out what they want, and to do that we’ve got to engage.
So, the question we ask ourselves is whether there is a simple process that we can put ourselves through that will help us understand our customers better?
Spot the Hidden Motivations
The hurdle the CEO in the earlier story had failed to cross was understanding what motivated his team.
Coming from a highly individualist culture where cash is king, he had presumed that his team, like him, simply wanted to be wealthy.
Failing to understand the motives for any transaction proves to be a regular challenge across cultures. US style sales that targets wealth is often perceived as brash and vulgar by regional business people.
So we need to encourage ourselves to think about this from our customer’s perspective.
We came up with 6 motives that contributed to motivation around the world, regardless of the language or culture.
In no particular order they were:
- Desire for Gain
- Fear of Loss
- Comfort and Convenience
- Security and Protection
- Pride of Ownership
- Emotional Satisfaction
What differed between cultures was the weight given to each factor.
For example in the Western hubs of capitalist boom and bust, desire for gain (often financially) and pride of ownership (bragging rights) were primary drivers.
Conversely in Eastern cities, customers tended to be more risk averse, with attention given to the security and protection of their business deals, and fear of loss (of making mistakes that threaten their career) proving significant factors.
But if these are general patterns, the difference between individuals within those cultures is more dramatic.
It simply isn’t reasonable to make any assumptions about the motivations of customers.
So every time we start to build those relationships we need to ask ourselves this specific question: ‘what drives this customer to make their decisions’.
The answer to that tells you the strengths and benefits of your product or service that your customer needs.
For example, if it’s wealth that drives them, then we need to address value for money and productivity. If it’s security that drives them, we need to address reliability, case studies and testimonials.
Most importantly it’s not difficult to find out…
Simply ask them what factors influenced their last purchase, and whether they were satisfied with the outcome!
Spot the Hidden Questions
With those motives in mind, we need to be prepared to answer nine key customer questions that may never get asked, but always need to be answered:
- Why should I take your call?
- Why should I take time to listen to you?
- What’s my problem?
- What benefits have you to offer my business?
- How will you support these benefits?
- Why should I trust you?
- Why should I trust your company?
- Why should I make a decision to proceed?
- Why should I proceed today?
They may never ask those questions simply because they’re too polite. Respect for other people often means that asking questions transparently based upon self-interest is simply too crude to even consider.
Instead their eyes will glaze over as they muse how long they should listen before getting rid of you.
So one great skill of effective sales people is to seamlessly weave the answers to those questions into the conversation without making it a big issue.
Bearing those factors in mind, we can build a useful sales tool to help our calls run smoothly.
Firstly, regarding your products or services:
- List the features you provide
- List the benefits the customer derives
- Score these benefits against the six hidden motivations.
As your customer reveals what drives their purchase decision, you’ve got a simple template that helps you reference those features, and only those features, that meet their needs.
So long as you can deliver these, everything else you offer is simply a bonus!
Regarding the conversation:
- List the hidden questions
- Brainstorm answers that work for your customers
- Identify anecdotes or case studies that you can contribute to the conversation that illustrate the points
- Try and keep this a ‘live’ document. When you make calls and try out some of the ideas, make a note of what works and what doesn’t.
People buy for their own reasons. They may not necessarily be sensible, intelligent, or even rational reasons. But they are theirs, and you need to be aware of which ones are motivating your prospect at any given time, so that you can tailor your sales approach accordingly.
There’s nothing holding you back from addressing this.
You don’t need to be a mindreader.
Book a room, go to a bar, gather colleagues and customers. Brainstorm these issues and commit the answers to paper.
You’re building yourself a blueprint to success.