Posted by: brandextenders | March 10, 2011

Talk, Talk, Talk…Not!

When my mom and I would talk about my being in sales she’d inevitably tell me I’d do well because I was good at talking. Silly me, I thought she was right and for the next several decades I talked my way through my sales life.

Think of the stereotypical salesperson and you usually think of used cars, worthless real estate or aluminum siding as in the movie, “Tin Men” with Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DiVito. The premise being if you talk enough you’ll wear your victim, I mean customer down and they’ll eventually buy whatever it is you’re selling to get rid of you. That was then.

In most selling environments these days buyers are younger, better educated and have this thing called the Internet to verify anything you tell them. If you sell a commodity (think used cars, promotional products, aluminum siding!) how are you differentiating yourself from your competition? In a recent blog I talked about using research as a differentiator and part of that comes from interviewing your customer, prospect and others. This is where the talking part comes in, but it’s not you doing the talking.

Matt Lauer asking questions

Ever have a secret desire to be Oprah or Matt Lauer or any other interviewer you might respect? There are a few things any good interviewer does and one of them is to not talk a lot. Here are five things to consider when you interview customers to learn about their business. Believe me; wanting to learn about their company will immediately set you apart from your competition if done correctly:

  1. Don’t talk about yourself: You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right? When interviewing think more along the lines of 95/5 where you listen 95% of the time and talk 5% of the time. This isn’t about you; this is all about you gathering information and knowledge; learning things about this prospect, customer or company that will help you find solutions to their challenges which is after all what sales should be about.
  2. People love to talk about themselves: Conversely, those you are interviewing love to talk about themselves. Who doesn’t? You may be the most fascinating person since Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, but the time to talk about yourself is later. Ask open-ended questions (more on that in a moment) then sit back, listen and take notes. Make sure your questions are garnering the correct information which typically won’t be, “Do you have pets” or “If you were a color, what color would you be?” These are business questions seeking data on your prospect or customer’s business objectives, strategies and challenges. Nothing about what you sell or about this great new product you found or how you‘ll cut your competitor’s prices by 25% or more. Ask questions and you’ll be amazed what you can learn.
  3. Be curious: Interviewers are naturally curious which helps them ask the right questions. Determine a goal for your interview; what do you want to learn and what will help you serve them better. Once you have a goal, think about the questions you’ll ask. Make them questions you may not have found the answers to elsewhere. Asking them how many employees the company has is silly if you can find the answer through a Google search. But asking what outside factors affect their business (think rise in fuel prices or cotton shortages), what trends do they see in their industry or how does their company go to market are all questions which will give you rich information and additional follow-up questions.
  4. Ask open-ended questions: The worst feeling in the world is asking someone a question and all you get is a yes or no. Learn to ask open-ended questions. These questions can’t be answered with a simple yes or no and will help illicit answers that truly are helpful. Instead of, “Is the high price of cotton affecting you?” ask, “Tell me how these record cotton prices are affecting your business?”  You’ll find open-ended questions tend to help build rapport, especially if it’s someone you don’t know well, because it shows you aren’t there just to sell them a .99 cent mug special.
  5. Write down your questions: There’s nothing wrong with writing down a list of questions you want to ask. Just keep in mind things don’t always go as you planned and answers you get to the first few questions might take you down a totally different path so learn to be flexible. And remember to take notes. No matter how hard I try, some stuff is going to slip through the neurons in my brain and get lost. So I write down answers to the questions I ask which also makes it obvious to the person I’m interviewing that what they are telling me matters. Now, if I can just learn to read what I’ve written down!

The competition today in all sectors is brutal and loyalty is a hard commodity to find. I believe though if you show interest in your customers and prospects, learn about them, learn about their business and work to become a trusted advisor, you’ll blow the competition away. It won’t work all the time, but it beats the alternative of trying to be the low-price king or queen which is a no-win situation all the time. If all you do is talk, talk, talk about you with your customers chances are they’ll walk, walk, walk away from you!

I work with my customers to evaluate their promotional marketing needs and develop creative and measurable solutions based on those needs. I build long-term relationships to become a trusted advisor my clients turn to for their brand extension, promotional product, incentive and other branding needs. Contact me at  


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