“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking like a customer. If you do, you’re done!” This warning has been pounded into the heads of salespeople — and it will follow them until their last day on the job.
Why is thinking like a customer dangerous? It’s the noxious notion that leads down the dark and dismal path to serious trouble — lost sales. If you dare to let yourself think like customers, you may be distracted from your mission and become overly understanding and sympathetic, even finding yourself walking in a customer’s shoes.
Yet, successful salespeople work hard at sharpening their understanding of what prospects and customers are thinking. It takes effort and skill to get inside someone’s head and it starts with asking questions:
- What’s important to them?
- What are they looking for?
- How motivated are they?
- Are they focused or not sure of themselves?
- What are they trying to tell me?
- Do they expect too much?
- Will they be fair?
- What are they not telling me?
- Are they worried about being taken for a ride?
- How concerned are they with making a mistake or getting stuck with a decision they will come to regret?
Accurate answers to these questions help to get an exact picture of what’s going on — and that changes the sales narrative. Instead of focusing on how you’re going to get customers to do what you want, you move to letting them know you’re on their side and your mission is to help them achieve their goal or dream.
In fact, it takes doing the opposite of what salespeople have been told to avoid — thinking like customers. It applies to all sales, whether you’re selling burritos from a food truck, diamond rings, engineering systems, real estate, insurance, medical equipment, or anything else.
What is it that the customer is trying to say? Some people have trouble expressing themselves clearly, either unwittingly — or on purpose. People often want others to think well of them, so they answer questions in ways that will impress the salesperson. They may let it be known, for example, that they can afford a purchase that’s far beyond their financial means. On and on it goes.
We all use shortcuts for coming up with answers so we can get the job done as quickly as possible. In sales this leads to believing we know more about how customers think than we do. Without even realizing it, opinions become facts and certainty supersedes questioning, doubt, and curiosity, the essential tools for understanding customers’ thoughts and behavior.
And at what cost? Lost sales.
Here are four basic rules to help zero in on gaining a better understanding of how customers think, and that mean more sales.
1. Never assume you know what a customer is thinking.
This is the place to start. Believing we can know what someone is thinking is useful–it gives us the feeling of being in control, even though the deck is stacked against such a notion.