The Internet is a very powerful tool for sales people. Like most power tools its use drastically reduces the time it takes to do a job manually. However like most power tools, it requires respect and understanding to avoid disaster and do the job well. More and more sales people are using the Internet to acquire information about their prospects, customers, and markets. This is truly a wonderful thing. However, this creates problems, or more specifically assumptions.
There is a myth in selling that assumptions are bad. Assumptions aren’t bad in themselves. It’s our unconscious reliance or defense of them that cause problems. This manifests when we believe we have facts when indeed they are assumptions.
Let’s face it. We all have to make assumptions about our customers. There is no way we can possibly know everything about our customers. We must assume. One of the traits of a great sales person is someone who can distinguish the difference between facts and assumptions. Knowing the difference between fact and assumption is critical to success in selling.
Assumptions come from many places: the Internet, misinformed people, your beliefs, biases and experience to name a few. Once you label something as an assumption, you have to determine its impact on your ability to win business. If you are not sure, you must ask questions to resolve any misunderstandings. This is a very tough thing to do. If you don’t realize something is an assumption, it will not cross your mind to confirm it. This is especially hard for new sales people. They just don’t know enough to have a thorough understanding of the environment or situation into which they are selling. This is also difficult for experienced sales people because, “Hey, I’ve seen it all. I know exactly what this customer needs!”
So what must you do to guard yourself against the assumptions on which you rely? First, assume everything you know is an assumption! Then, test your assumptions by asking questions to overcome ambiguity. Ask yourself, “How do I know this?” “How have I verified this?”
When you first meet a prospect ask general open-ended questions. Narrow the focus of your questions later in the conversation. This leads you to ask better and more meaningful questions. The more you practice this the better you will become. Remember, the hardest part about knowing the facts is recognizing what assumptions you are making.
As a final step, review every customer encounter. None of us like to lose business, but one rewarding activity to do after losing any business is to assess your actions. What assumptions did you base your approach on that were inaccurate? What could you have done to confirm you have a thorough understanding? How will you recognize that type of assumption in the future? Your best defense against assumptions is to be prepared.
It’s the unrecognized assumptions that harm us, not the ones we know.