Deep within our psyche, there is a need so great that we actively seek out people and businesses to fill it. Seldom is the need ever voiced. Instead, it is something that guides us on an emotional level. Even highly educated intellectuals are guided on an emotional level when it comes to this need. Businesses that master the ability to meet this need win customers for life. Let’s take a look at how you can win the hearts of life-long customers by meeting this need.
As a kid, I remember shopping for church shoes with my dad. The shoe salesman gave my brother and me a shoehorn. We thought it was the niftiest thing ever. For a long time, we carried our shoehorns around with us. As long as we had this handy little device with us, we never had to tie our shoes – just slip in the shoehorn and shove the foot right into the already tied shoe. Not a very comfortable way to put on shoes, now that I think back on it, but as a kid there was the satisfaction that came from the challenge.
In the sales process, shoehorning is what happens when the sales person attempts to fit the prospect into what they want to sell, not what the person actually needs or wants. Have you ever gone to the store looking for one thing, asked someone for help, only to be pressured to buy something you weren’t looking for? Nobody enjoys the feeling of being pressured in this way, and the net result is one where the prospect is actually less likely to do business there in the future.
The Purpose for Your Business
What is the purpose for your business? The real answer to this question isn’t about how your business serves you; it is about how your business serves others. Without serving others, no business would exist. The distinction here is very important because it affects the mindset of everyone involved in the business and directly impacts the sales process.
When the primary goal in mind is how your business serves you, it puts everything in the wrong perspective because the natural tendency is toward the short term view, which leads to a pretty undesirable outcome. When the primary goal is how your business can best serve others, the results are pretty amazing. It is a mindset that affects all interactions with prospects and customers. It shows up in lots of little ways that lead to some pretty big results.
Make a Point To Ask
Too often, the sales conversation moves too quickly to the prescription without enough time spent on the diagnosis. The best outcome, when the goal is how you can best serve others, can only come from spending enough time on the diagnosis so that both you and the person you’re serving has confidence in the prescription.
In other words, take time to ask lots of questions. Ask questions that will allow you to discover what your customer’s concerns are. Ask questions that allow you to understand what results and benefits they are seeking from your product or service.
Active listening is about giving your full attention to the person you’re talking with, which includes repeating back and paraphrasing what they are saying, to ensure that you really understand their issues. Active listening is a skill that, with practice, enables you to go beyond simply hearing the words that are coming out of their mouth to understanding what they really want. In a culture where too few people take the time and focus necessary to actually listen to what others are saying, doing so will quickly separate you and your business from everyone else.
Real understanding is something that is best communicated through demonstration. People are often quick to say “I understand,” but the real proof is in the pudding, as my grandmother would say. Understanding is demonstrated in part by the questions asked.
Follow up questions are often needed to understand the customer’s preferences when it comes to tradeoffs. For example, in most goods and services, there are three qualities that you must choose between – fast, good, and cheap. All three may be desirable in certain situations, but in reality, you can only have two of the three. Fast and good together are great, but it isn’t cheap. Fast and cheap together sounds nice, but the quality isn’t good. When you ask people what benefits or qualities are most important, they will usually tell you in the order of their relative importance.
You demonstrate understanding by asking appropriate questions. You demonstrate understanding by giving them choices that are most aligned with what they have told you.
I remember when I was in college, I went to an electronics store to see about buying a CB. The salesman obviously thought my questions were too elementary. This was communicated in part by his way of closing his eyes as we talked and he answered my questions. The sale was his to lose – I went there with money in hand to buy what he had. As a result of my experience there, I ended up buying from a mail order catalog instead, even though I had to wait two weeks for my new CB to arrive by mail.
When your primary goal is to serve your audience well, it shows up in lots of little ways. It shows up in the way prospects are treated with respect. Their questions – no matter how “small” they may seem to you are answered with respect. When prospective clients feel a bit overwhelmed or intimidated by the process, they may hold back asking questions or apologize for asking a question. When your response is to answer each question with the same concern that you would if you were answering a question from your own mother, they will feel your respect.
Trust is essential to the formation of a long-term business relationship. Trust is something that is built over a period of time, but can be damaged very quickly. Asking appropriate questions demonstrates a real interest in and concern for your prospect. When this interest and concern is followed by a demonstration of your understanding of their situation and concerns, trust is formed. All the little badges and seals of authority and credibility – certifications, awards, honors, etc. – are helpful in building credibility BEFORE the prospect interacts with you and your business. After that interaction has occurred, their trust in you is based primarily on how well they feel heard, understood, and respected.
Meeting the Deep Need
Locked within us, we all have a deep need to be heard and understood. By asking appropriate questions and then really listening, we give people the opportunity to be heard and understood. Real understanding is something that is best communicated by demonstration. When people feel heard and understood, they will be back – for life, and they will provide you with great referrals. More than anything, people want to be heard and understood – do this well and you’ll create a loyal following.