Suppose I say to you, “I need new glasses,” then ask for suggestions for where to shop. What are you likely to say in reply? And how can you apply this concept to better understand your obligation as a seller?
We actually make the statement.”I need new glasses,” in our workshops. We get thoughtful, earnest answers. One participant may ask whether we need prescription lenses or just reading glasses. Another may suggest we check out the local Lens Crafters. A third will give us the number of his cousin the ophthalmologist. All of them, in good faith and with a real desire to help, attempt to bring their individual solutions to bear on what they see as our problem.
All of them, without fail, believe the problem prompting the comment is poor eyesight. So, they’re ready with solutions perfectly tailored to address it.
They won’t understand selling until we tell them that eyesight isn’t the problem.
“In a couple of weeks,” we explain, “we’re going to be hosting a wine tasting. It’ll be a fairly posh affair, for about fifteen friends, and we don’t have enough wine glasses.” Chuckles all around, and a few groans. “But you didn’t say…” “If we had known you meant wine glasses…” “Well, we just assumed…”
The people we coach, train, and consult are experienced professionals. They are often the best in their field. Yet when faced with a simple question about a solvable problem, they invariably make a classic seller’s mistake. They assume their understanding of a critical term (“glasses”) is identical to our understanding. As a result, they fall into a common and easily avoided conceptual trap. Drawing on their own expertise and their own goodwill, they provide a solution to a problem that has not been properly defined.
You know what? It happens all the time. Salespeople hear a customer begin to express a need and start thinking about solutions before the customer finishes the sentence. And that couldn’t be more wrong.
So, here is a key lesson for any would-be problem solver: define your terms.
Or, more precisely, ask your customer to define his or her terms, so you can be certain that any solution you offer solves the REAL problem. Truly understand what they want the requested feature or characteristic to address, what they actually wants it to do. Don’t assume you know what your buyer means, even if you have heard that term a hundred times before. In reality, we only THINK we know what this buyer means based on what we heard other buyers say.
We can’t really be certain. For example, if the buyer says “I need a solution that is easy to use,” can you be certain you know this particular buyer’s definition of “easy to use?” If they say “I need competent service personnel” or “effective end-user training”, do we really understand what this buyer, at this moment, is intending to convey? In reality, this person might as well be saying “I need new glasses.”
If you don’t ask your customer for clarification — early in the game and throughout the sales process — you may very well find yourself at Lens Crafters shopping for stemware.