Joseph Nathan Kane, who died at the age of 103 in October, 2002, wrote “Famous First Facts,” a reference book of obscure items in American history. For example, the first airplane, Mr. Kane determined, was flown by Gustave Whitehead on April 14, 1901, near Bridgeport CT, more than two years before the Wright Bothers lifted off from Kitty Hawk, NC.
Once, when asked how be began his research career, he said that he started while in school. When his teachers declared some accepted point in history, he would ask, “How do you know?” It was a question he asked throughout his long life, explaining in 1988, when he was 89, “I’m stupid enough to not believe anything until I see the proof.”
Which brings us to sales calls. We salespeople sometimes allow ourselves to be lulled by the information we hear coming out of our prospects’ and clients’ mouths. It can sound so polished, so convincing, that we sit in our chairs wondering, “Where does this person have a challenge I could help fix, s/he sounds like s/he has everything under control.”
Well, surprise, surprise. All of us humans traffic in wishful thinking and disinformation from time to time. We like to look good. We like to appear under control. We may THINK we have everything under control. We may not have given it much thought, at all. Or, we may be saying, “ I don’t want to open up another can of worms here, so I’ll just tell you everything else is OK.”
So we salespeople can facilitate discussion, dig a little deeper.
In the right moment, I like Mr. Kane’s technique, “How do you know?” Or its sister question, “What has to go just right for that to work out?”
- My wife and I have saved enough for retirement. (How do you know?
What has to go just right for that to work out?)
- Our current provider will be able to take care of all of our needs. (How do you know?)
- Our cash flow should remain stable for the next 6 to 12 months. (What has to work out just right…?)
- Our computer system will handle our needs for the next year. (How do you know?)
- Our managers will be able to handle the implementation, no problem. (How do you know?)
Any time someone asserts facts or conclusions, you can ask “how do you know?” or “What has to go just right…?” (Voice tone is critical here – we need to ask with respect and curiosity, striving to understand the facts and assumptions behind the assertion.
And, there’s a related follow up question you can ask, too: “As you move forward, what will you look at to know whether you’re staying on track or not? How will you know?” [“On track” here could mean anything from meeting production quotas to having enough money for retirement.]
Don’t take anything for granted.