“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.”
The above quote by Albert Einstein certainly applies to sales reps. Whether it’s discovery, taking the next steps, or closing a deal, sales professionals are always asking questions. But it’s the second half – the reminder of the importance of curiosity – that had me realizing recently that salespeople should develop their sense of curiosity. Curiously enough, it’s a personality trait I don’t think is talked about enough in terms of sales.
Why Sales Reps Need Curiosity
Many times – too often, in fact – sales reps have in mind the goal of closing the sale and go into pitch mode far too quickly. Small talk becomes indeed small, discovery short-circuited by preconceived notions and the leap to conclusions. This adrenaline-fueled, too direct by half race does nothing to build relationships and can frequently lead buyers to feeling sold to – a cold experience.
Instead of this hyper-focus on the end result, sales reps should take their time. More specifically, they should cultivate a sense of curiosity. How does the prospect do business? What do they see as their greatest challenges? Their most worrying threats? What are their customers like and what do those buyers look for when searching for solutions in your prospect’s vertical? What’s their sales process? The questions are virtually limitless.
Intellectual inquiry is the cornerstone of our own approach to clients. We engage in intensive, deep and wide research with our buyer, their industries, and their markets to really understand the business and their operating situation and environment. It’s how we’ve been able to successfully generate high ROI for our clients quarter after quarter, year after year.
Until you understand where your buyers have been, where they are right now, and where they want to be in the future, any solution you offer risks being not exactly what they’re looking for.
Further, by being genuinely curious about their operations, methodologies, and past, present, and hoped-for future states, something significant happens: You go from transaction-based selling to consultative advising. That shift makes the sales conversation no longer about you and your products, but about the buyers you’re talking to. And that’s the right approach to take in sales. Make it about them – their needs, their dreams, their vision.
How to Become More Curious
Some people naturally have a curious, inquisitive mindset. And those of you with children know most of them do too. But as we grow up, we tend to lose sight of that, preoccupied as we are with the concerns and issues that come up with daily adult life. So the situation might be that you need to develop that sense of curiosity you had as a kid. Fortunately, there’s ways to get that back.
Ask people rather than the Internet
Search engines are wonderful. They allow us to access much of the critical mass of human knowledge. But looking up a recipe or who Japan’s thirteenth emperor was (Waka Tarashihiko – imperial name of Emperor Seimu) is a passive experience. We ask the question, find the information, and we’re done. On the other hand, asking someone else about a recipe or a historical fact they know is an active engagement. Rarely is it ask, answer, done. Instead, a sprawling conversation usually ensues – thought leading to thought, sentence leading to sentence, until before you know it, it’s half an hour later and you realize you need to get home because you have to be up early for work in the morning. It’s also good practice for developing your conversation skills in general.
Another idea: If you know what someone is passionate about, ask them about it – especially if it’s something you know nothing about or aren’t necessarily interested in yourself. You’ll learn something and it can have a direct correlation to talking with leads you have no or limited information about.
Do something you’ve never done before
One of the best ways to hone your curiosity is to step out of the complacent, the comfortable, and try something new that you’ve never done before. Whether it’s a trip to a foreign country, learning about a new subject, or even something as simple as trying a different dish than your usual at your favorite restaurant, putting yourself through novel experiences will invigorate your sense of exploration and thinking. At the very least, you’ll have a new experience and stories to share.
We may have referenced this before, but one of our team members, when teaching college, used to assign students to spend at least an hour or two somewhere with no electronics – no cellphone, no TV, no radio, no computer, etc. In that time, they were to record observations of what they observed with their senses – what they heard, saw, smelled, touched, and perhaps even tasted. They could do this alone or with other people. A wide variety of experiences came out over the semesters of this assignment. But uniformly, students found themselves changed with new awareness. One student realized they could get their homework done faster without the distractions and study better, leading to their highest test score in a course. Others re-established new connections with family members, leading to, respectively, a cellphone ban at the dinner table and weekly family electronics-free gatherings. Still more found the value in simply getting away and exploring in nature, releasing stress and relaxing.
It’s an experiment that you, too, can take on. Obviously you won’t have to record observations, but spending an hour electronics-free can open you up to realizing and noticing things you didn’t before. If you have a family, taking the kids with can make for a bonding experience and memories.
Note: Doing this might be uncomfortable at first. As a society, we’ve become so dependent on our cellphones and other technology that being without it can be disconcerting. But the human mind also abhors boredom, and by observing sensory inputs, the boredom dissipates, freeing the mind to wander as it will.
Clearly, curiosity is a key ingredient in shifting the dynamics of the sales conversation to make them as customer-centric as possible. Developing your sense of investigation and interest in things might take some time, but the long-term benefits, in both your personal and professional lives, will be well worth the effort.