Sometimes you should ask for permissions before asking a question

In recent years, one of the most interesting aspects of the sales training revolution we’re living has certainly been the increase of available resources: the possibility of self-producing books and resources has generated a much faster and wider exchange of knowledge compared to the previous years.

Moreover and due to the shift of selling from a purely tactical function to a strategic one, many universities and organisations have become interested in the topic by dedicating specific courses and scientific papers on it.

 

Naturally and as you know, not all that glitters is gold: this massive change has also led to negative consequences which can often be attributed to our misinterpretation.

In other words, in recent years we have often misunderstood what the authors wanted to tell us, giving a way too personal (and therefore wrong) interpretation of the knowledge created.

 

One of the most misunderstood books of the last 15 years is definitely ‘The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation’ written by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, a book that has been a break in sales training.

The book was immediately accepted by the public (and it couldn’t be different, it’s still relevant today and full of innovative ideas) but there was lot of criticism too, which was the result of a misinterpretation.

 

Without going into detail (it’s not the right article and there wouldn’t be time), the book focused on a different relational model: the ‘Teach, Tailor & Take Control’ dynamic was centred on a salesperson in full control of the conversation – a salesperson who, through teaching, was able to tailor the sales proposal to the customer’s latent needs.

The teaching was based on the insights which were the information and trends that the salesperson brought to the customer: these insights would then have been the backbone of the conversation with the customer who would have been guided through the buying process.

As you can imagine or as you know if you’ve read the book, this dynamic can only take place if there’s a deep trust between buyer and seller: otherwise and when this is missing (as in the case of new customers), the methodology is difficult to apply.

 

I think that the point just described caused the largest amount of misunderstandings: the control the authors describe has been confused with a strict control of the conversation which didn’t allow the prospect/customer to speak up and talk about his needs, so as to develop trust.

One of the main consequences of this misinterpretation has been the trend which has led many salespeople and sales trainers to avoid the classic elements of the conversation in order to make it tougher: on the other hand, if you misinterpret the book, a salesperson in control is a tough salesperson, a sort of General of the Army.

A General of the Army cannot appear weak or vulnerable: he knows what he wants and what he has to take, he knows what to teach and how to keep everything under control – but most importantly, he never asks permission.

Today I’d like to focus on this topic and why it’s crucial to ask permission before asking a question, but first let me clarify.

With ‘asking permission’ I’m not referring to statements like ‘Can I ask you a question’ or ‘Let me ask you another question’ but to introductory phrases (or as I like to call them, ‘bridges’) that help you soften the conversation and avoid making it feel like an interview.

Just to give you a few examples, I’d say, “I’m going to ask you a few questions so I can narrow down the conversation”, “I’d just like to ask you a few things so that I can understand out how to help you” or “Let me ask you a few questions so that I know what brings you here” and so on.

 

These ‘bridges’ are the crucial for any salesperson because they allow her to reduce the pressure and the friction of the buyer-seller interaction.

A conversation that leverages these types of sentences is a non-confrontational one, an information-gathering session that is more like a chat than an inquisition and which helps to build rapport.

 

For this very reason and if someone tells you to avoid asking for permissions just share this article with him/her and observe his/her reaction: I’m pretty sure he/she will change his/her mind.

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