The best salespeople have no need to sell. As you’ll see in this story, they use the power of asking questions and coaching their customers to succeed.

Adrian was responsible for managing the sales team for one of the larger retail outlets in his town. He recently hired a new salesperson to work in the sporting goods section. After two months, Jerry, the new salesperson, was outselling every salesperson he’d ever worked with — and selling big-ticket items, too, including fishing rods, rowboats, camping tents, and canoes.

Adrian was so impressed, he had to find out what Jerry’s secret was. He observed Jerry sell something to practically every person who walked into his department.

At the end of the day, Adrian went over to Jerry and said, “You’re doing fantastic. Not only have you increased the traffic tenfold in the department, but sales are better than ever. What’s your secret to identifying the buyers, getting them interested, and then motivated to buy?”

Jerry simply said, “I just listen for what their needs are and I fill them.”

“It couldn’t be that simple,” Adrian thought.

So, Adrian quietly observed the next customer who started talking with Jerry. After about 45 minutes, Jerry watched as this customer purchased fishing hooks, a new rod, a life preserver, and a new rowboat.

After Jerry rang up the sale and the happy customer left to pick up his new rowboat, Adrian walked up to Jerry.

“You have to tell me how you did that,” Adrian said. “What did you say that made him buy?”

Jerry said, “Most of my customers, including this person, walk into my department with no intention to buy anything. It just so happened that when this gentleman was walking by, I simply asked, ‘How is your day, sir?’

“He told me he was looking for his wife and asked where the women’s clothing department was. After pointing him in the right direction, I simply asked him what he was doing this weekend and he told me he was going fishing. That’s when I started asking him questions. One thing led to another and it turns out he needed some things he didn’t even know he needed.”

“Like what?” Adrian asked with intense interest.

Jerry thought for a moment and said, “These are probably the five questions I ask most that help customers find what they need:

“What do you love most about fishing?

“Whom do you go fishing with?

“What kind of fishing do you do? Where?

“If there’s ever a problem, what kind of safety equipment do you have?

“What are you most concerned about regarding safety and ensuring you and your guests always have a great experience?

Jerry said the customer’s primary concern centered around his life preservers.

“The ones he had were old, outdated, and didn’t even have a safety GPS beacon in them. If I never asked, I would never have been able to truly help this person, and possibly even save a life. What’s more important than that?”

Jerry reflected for a moment. “That’s why I guess I’m good. I love people first and I want to know who they are, their story. It’s a genuine sense of caring. Funny, I don’t really think about selling when I guess I’m selling. Sales just happen.”

This story illustrates how great salespeople engage with others. Do you take the time to seek to understand others as people, not as a prospect or as part of your quota? There’s a difference between just hunting for the sale and being genuinely interested in helping people unconditionally, without pushing your agenda, because you care more than you want to sell them.

The lesson? Your primary focus should always be on the who, not the what (the sale). So stop making assumptions, and shift to being present, insatiably curious, and caring. And develop the habit that will organically make you a sales champion — leading every conversation with questions, not answers.

Your primary focus should always be on the who, not the what (the sale).”

Keith Rosen | Author of "Sales Leadership"
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