How long should you question customers to ensure that you understand their needs before you try to present your product or service as a solution to those needs?

The best answer is, as long as it takes. You can seek advice from 100 sales training courses and 1,000 sales coaching sessions, but you won’t find a better answer.

The question is important because most salespeople are strongly tempted to begin pitching products too early. To fight that temptation, my own sales training program, Action Selling ®, offers a rule of thumb about asking questions.

Think of it as the Rule of Three: Do not stop questioning a customer until you have uncovered at least three needs that will allow you to differentiate or add value.

Add that to your arsenal of key sales skills.

Why is the Rule of Three so crucial? Think of it this way: Why would any customer buy from you instead of from one of your competitors? It can only be because you have differentiated yourself somehow. Customers must believe that you represent a better answer to their needs.

That’s why it is so critical to understand which needs the customer cares most about and why. Only the customer can tell you. Any sales training program or sales coaching initiative worth its salt should tell you that selling is all about asking and listening—it’s not about talking.

When does it become your turn to talk? I repeat: Do not stop asking questions until you have uncovered at least three needs that will allow you to differentiate or add value.

Keep asking until you uncover three ways to differentiate

This means that you should never start presenting your product or service until you have found at least three specific needs that serve as targets to guide your presentation. You must present solutions for needs that the customer has expressed and agreed upon. When you don’t, you’re just describing commodities that the customer can buy from anyone.

I go into depth on this topic in my book Questions (the Answer to Sales). And I’m not talking only to sales reps who deal with complex or expensive products and services, but to all salespeople, even those who sell the simplest wares. I don’t care what other sales skills you might possess; if you fail to observe the Rule of Three, I guarantee that you will miss opportunities.

For information about how to improve sales skills and make sales training pay huge dividends, contact Action Selling ® at (800) 232-3485.