After nineteen years of sales and sales training, I have found the most common mistake made in sales and in life is that people make assumptions about another persons thoughts and wants.  People often go into sales because they perceive themselves to be great communicators.  All too often that perception comes from the ability to speak, which is a definite plus.  An effective communicator is good at speaking but is even better at listening.  The best way to get your customer engaged is by asking questions and listening.  In other words, we great speakers need to be quiet sometimes so we can learn our customers’ needs and wants.  I will never forget when our company launched the first once-a-day prescription antibiotic. We knew we would have instant success because no one had ever seen a drug, in this class, taken once a day before.  So we assumed that a once daily antibiotic was important to physicians.  Our marketing campaign was based on how much easier our product was to use than the competition.  We used this strategy for an entire year and our competition slaughtered us.  Why?  We never stopped to ask what the physicians’ wants and needs were, or how they felt about a drug taken once a day.  It wasn’t until we regrouped, and uncovered physician concerns that we learned our customers were actually uncomfortable prescribing an antibiotic only taken once a day for such a short duration of therapy.  Once we changed our messaging and answered the doctors’ concerns, we became the number one antibiotic in its class.

 During my tenure, I have also had the opportunity to hear several presentations, given by coworkers and competitors.  The most common opening line I would hear is “what you want is…” There is no greater mistake in sales.  Granted, the sales person followed with respectable facts, but had no clue as to whether the information they presented was important to the customer or not.  The sales representative was telling the customer what they wanted.  The assumption about what a customer wants may not just be inaccurate, depending on the customer’s personality type, it could be offensive.  A smart sales representative does not try to impress their customer with features about their product or service.  Instead they ask open ended questions which will help them learn the customers’ needs, and what is important to them.  Not only will it reveal pertinent information, it will also appeal to their human side, to be heard.  All too often  sales representatives will deliver a flawless presentation on their product or service and leave feeling royally, assuming we have answered all of the customer’s concerns.  When we look at our sales numbers, we cannot figure out why we are not improving and why we are at the bottom of the ranking.  One may think, I am the best presenter in my region, yet I am not winning.  However, that great presenter may also be the worst listener and making assumptions as to why a customer will purchase. 

 The bottom line is that regardless of our customer’s corporate rank, or how challenging the persona, we are all human.  We have the need to express ourselves and feel important. We would rather tell someone what we want and have you give positive reinforcement rather than be told what we want.  There is one thing, however, we achieve when we assume, we make an a_ _ out of u and me!

 Dion Harding is a sales trainer, motivational speaker, and author.

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