If you’ve been selling for any length of time, you probably know the importance of asking questions to gain a thorough understanding of a prospect’s situation and potential pain points. But are you catching their clues, cues and hints?

During a role-playing session at a sales training workshop recently, I watched an interaction between salesperson “Jim” and his customer “Larry.” Jim asked lots of questions, made great eye contact and took notes as Larry spoke.

At one point, while discussing his business, Larry said, “I’m spending too much time on…,” to which Jim responded, “Uh huh,” and then continued to ask innocuous questions.

I whispered a suggested question into Jim’s ear. “What do you mean by ‘I’m spending too much time on…’?” Larry elaborated and Jim learned that one work-related task was not only sucking up an enormous amount of time but also the source of major headaches.

With a little more prompting and a few more questions, Jim eventually discovered that automating this task would save Larry almost $23,000 in out-of-pocket costs per quarter. Considering the modest $2,700 investment required, Larry was easily convinced to make a buying decision. But Jim might have missed out on this sale, because he initially missed this important clue.

When prospects make offhand comments, it’s critical that we probe deeper and get them to clarify exactly what they mean. We must keep digging until we find the source and cause of their pain. That way, we can help them identify the business impact of their problems and position our solutions more effectively.

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