The Sales Detective – “I’m Not Moving!”

Here at The Sales Cafe, we are devoted to bringing in the best and the brightest sales thought leaders to share their wealth of knowledge. Today, we introduce a new Cafe blogger, Bob Davis, The Sales Detective. Bob Davis has more than 20 years’ experience in sales, sales training and marketing. He’s now part of The Sales Cafe team. Please enjoy his first post and join in the conversation by adding a comment below.

by Bob Davis

Several years ago the actor Peter Falk stared in a series called Columbo. He played a rather disheveled detective always wearing a signature rumpled trench coat. He managed to solve cases through relentless digging for information. He would conduct an in-depth interview and start to leave, then turn on his heels and say “Just one more question!” It was Columbo’s ability to ask penetrating and relevant questions that consistently led him to solve the puzzle (in his case, the crime).

Selling starts with good detective work. Like Columbo, we are looking to solve a puzzle. In our case, what information will qualify our customer and solve their problems with our offering? This blog will focus on the art of solving problems for customers by getting information that will accelerate the sales cycle, while at the same time maintaining a relentless customer focus. Our theme will be “The only thing important to the customer, is what’s important to the customer.” Our mission will be to provide ideas that help us find out what’s important to the customer, leading to more sales and more satisfied customers.

“I’m not moving!”

Several years ago, I was teaching a negotiating seminar on the topic of interests behind positions. A single mom told me the following story:

She was planning to move to a new home around the first of the year. It was to be a larger home for her and her four-year-old son. She had been working on him for months to gain his enthusiasm for the move. Every attempt to “sell” her young son on the move was met with an arms folded response of “I’m not moving!” combined with a very determined scrunched up face. She did what most of salespeople do when the “customer” seems to not understand the value of our offering—deliver another “value proposition.” This went as follows:
Mom:  “But Johnny, you will have a bigger bedroom!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

Mom:  “But Johnny, there is a play room in this house!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

Mom:  “But Johnny, we will be on the side of town where your friends live!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

Mom:  “But Johnny, there is a nice park and playground across the street!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

We all know that while this mom wanted to “sell” her son on the move, the reality is he is going to move even if she has to pick him up and move him. (A note here: A four year old has the ability if he/she does not want to be moved, to actually double their body weight on lifting attempts. I do not know how they do it, but any parent who has tried to move a four year old against their will can attest to this great mystery.)

All of the verbal attempts to convince having failed, she decided to try what we know in sales as the “plant tour”—bring the customer to the home office and show them around (making sure any staff who may embarrass us is off the day of the tour). So she called the elderly couple she was buying the home from and asked if she and Johnny might stop in for a visit between Christmas and New Year’s Day (the elderly couple was moving to Florida the day after New Year’s Day). A visit was arranged. On arriving at the house, the Mom said to Johnny, “At the end of the hall is that nice big bedroom that will be yours. I’m going to have tea with this nice couple. You just wonder around the whole house and come back and tell mommy what you think. ” Johnny set off on his mission.

In ten minutes, Johnny was back. With an expectant smile, the mom said, “Well, what do you think?” Johnny folded his arms and said, “I’m not moving!” In total frustration the mom (knowing child abuse is both illegal and wrong) extended her hands in an “I’d like to throttle you” motion, and said “WHY NOT!!” Johnny replied, “I looked everywhere, and there’s no good kid toys here!” With a look of total astonishment, the mom replied, “Well of course not. When we move all your toys will come with us.” “Every one?” queried Johnny. “Absolutely!” replied the mom. Unfolding his arms, Johnny said with a smile, “Then this is a neat house!”

You see, those of us who remember the famous comedian George Carlin and listened to his rant on moving, know that when we move “our stuff” moves with us. A four year old may not. The simple power of the question “Why?” uncovered the reason for this four year old’s distress. William Ury of the Harvard Negotiating Project, tells us that we often get stuck on the position (the “what” they want) and fail to understand the interest behind the position (the ‘why” they want it). If only this mom had dug deeper into Johnny’s concern and said “Why is this move so upsetting to you?”, she may have saved months of “sales” effort and closed the kid on the move sooner.

The Sales Detective lesson:

When a customer says they want something, always ask in a respectful manner, “Why?”

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