Looking for Spoons (Issue 475)

… in which we discover the benefits of asking broader questions before we qualify someone for our products. It’s a small cafeteria. Solid food to the right. Salad to the left. Cashier at the end.

Running to an early morning project team meeting down the hall, two of us swept through, grabbing orange juices, bananas, and blueberry yogurts to sustain us. “Spoons,” my partner said. “Right,” I replied, looking left, right, and down. “Spoons.”

None in sight. “This is silly,” I thought, looking at counter tops. “They should be here.” Couldn’t see a one.

We found cafeteria staff. She pointed down to the counter that had been directly in front of us. I could see them, now that I’d backed up a few paces. Spoons. Full-sized spoons. BLACK spoons.

Well, I hadn’t been looking for full-sized BLACK spoons. I’d been looking for small, flimsy, white plastic spoons. I was right on top of the black spoons and I couldn’t see them while I was looking right at them.

We have this experience in sales calls, too. We’re moving so quickly and looking so intently for the specific needs we planned to address in our call plans (white spoons) that we miss other possible opportunities or needs that we could sell or cross sell (black spoons).

One strategy to address just-looking-for-white-spoons tendency (like, AFTER we’ve taken a couple of deep breaths and reminded ourselves that we’re there to create or build relationship and connection) is to start with ‘business’ questions rather than ‘product-qualification questions.’

Business questions are broad, survey questions. Product qualification questions tend to be very specific.

Suppose we’re selling printers and software. The just-looking-for-white-spoons “product qualification” questions would sound something like, “What kind of computers and software are you using” or “What kind of network are you operating” or “How do you currently print proposals?”

If we’re bankers, the product qualification just- looking-for-white-spoons questions could include “What checking accounts do you use” or “How do you use lines of credit to finance seasonal working capital?” or “How do you currently collect and process your accounts receivable.

For both sellers, broader business questions might include, “How has your business been evolving over the last couple of years” or “What sorts of challenges are you facing in supporting your customers” or “How have the changes in the economy affected your business?”

Questions like these broaden our vision a bit. We can, at least, see the black spoons or other spoons, whether or not we choose to pick them up.

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