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 course or sales coaching initiative worth its salt should tell you that selling is all about asking and listening—it’s not about talking.

Yet most salespeople are strongly tempted to stop questioning the customer and begin to pitch their products too early in a sales call. 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, and please add it to your arsenal of sales skills.

Here it is: Do not stop questioning a customer until you have uncovered at least three needs that will allow you to differentiate or add value.

No matter what you sell, keep asking questions

The Rule of Three doesn’t apply only to salespeople who handle complex or expensive products and services. It’s important even if you’re selling something as simple as a box of screws. Case in point:

Hardware Resources Inc. is a Louisiana-based company that supplies cabinet hardware. Points of differentiation for HRI include the quality of their screws, delivery, and product packaging. After attending a sales training course based on the Action Selling system, Pat Smith, a southwest sales rep for HRI, sent an email to his CEO, Jeff Lowe, who had approved the expense. Here is an abridged version:

Jeff —

Your investment in me and the sales training program is already paying dividends. I just spent time with an account, asking open-ended questions about his supplies. I asked what was important to him about screws. He said that they shouldn’t break and that he usually needed one-day delivery because his guys never tell him when he’s about to run out.

I could have jumped right to the product pitch, but instead I asked another question: What else is important to you? Get this: He said, “Yeah, the stupid boxes get damaged, and we lose a lot.”

I repeated his concerns: “So, you need screws that don’t break, you need them fast, and you need them in a box that doesn’t break. Is that correct?” He said yes. I shared our capability and gained his business. Price never even came up!

I still have a lot to learn, but this is a great start. Just thought you’d like to know your money was well spent.


In other words, thanks to the sales training program, Pat didn’t start his presentation until he found at least three specific needs that served as targets to guide him. That allowed him to present his very simple product as a solution for needs that the customer had expressed and agreed upon. If Pat hadn’t done that, he just would have been describing commodities that the customer could buy from anyone.

Here’s a valuable bit of sales coaching: Don’t sell commodities. Follow the Rule of Three.

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