No matter what side of the deal you are on, whether you are prospecting for new business or delivering on an account that you’ve already secured, the most destructive thing you can do as a salesperson is to be presumptuous with your customer. Many potentially great business relationships crumble merely from poor communication that leads to unmet expectations. That is why there is so much talk today in the world of professional sales about the importance of asking questions. Great sales people err on the side of nagging, relentlessly following up with the customer to make sure that everything is clear. When we as salespeople are unsure about what a customer wants or expects and, instead of asking, simply give our best guess, we send one of three negative signals.
- We are incompetent. The first thing that comes across a customer’s mind when we fail to meet an expectation is that we simply weren’t cut out for the job. Our product or service is not all that we pitched it to be. Because we didn’t clarify what the customer was expecting, we end up looking as if we failed to deliver on our promises. As soon as they are able, our customers are likely to seek out someone they perceive to be more capable–which is, in reality, someone who simply does not make assumptions about the customers’ demands.
- We are lazy. When we are interviewing a prospective client and, instead of doing research about her industry, we assume something incorrectly, we come across as lazy for not doing the pre-call work. Likewise, when we fail to follow up with a customer who has a problem (even if we don’t know about it, but especially if we do know about it), they may assume we are lazy and don’t want to fix it. Instead of digging in and isolating the cause of the customer’s problem to come up with a mutually agreed upon solution, we brush it under the rug or–if we don’t know about the problem–assume that everything is fine. Sending the signal that we are lazy is worse than sending the signal that we are incompetent. It means that we are capable of delivering on our promises, but we just don’t care enough to try.
- We are selfish. Is there anything worse for a salesperson to be branded than “selfish?” It is the stereotype that professional salespeople work tirelessly to overcome. Yet, when we make assumptions about a client’s wants or needs, we send the signal that those wants and needs aren’t really important to us. From a client’s perspective, that can mean only one thing: we are in it only for the commission. When we don’t ask questions and thoroughly investigate a potential customer’s situation but instead go straight for the hard sell, we are telling the customer that we don’t care whether or not they need what we are selling. We just want them to buy so that we can get paid. Likewise, if we fail to follow up on an existing account and prefer to assume everything is fine, the ignored customer who may be having difficulties with the product or service we sold them is thinking, “Clearly, that salesperson doesn’t care about me or my business. He already collected his commission.” Presumptuousness is selfishness.
“Now, hold on a second,” you may be thinking, “it’s the customer that’s making all the assumptions!” It’s true. Customers will assume benefits that you do not discuss, delivery times that you do not agree upon, and results that you do not promise. And, to salespeople, customers can send the same signals: that they are incompetent, lazy, and selfish. But, guess what? That’s where leadership comes into play. We’ve got to take charge and be the bigger people. It’s a salesperson’s responsibility to ask the tough questions, point out the elephants in the room, and have the difficult conversations that clarify expectations for both parties. Assuming is a customer’s prerogative; it is not a salesperson’s.
When salespeople don’t assume but, instead, ask all the questions and map out all the details of the exchange, the opposite will happen. Customers will perceive the salespeople as competent, diligent, and caring. So I ask you, salespeople of today, why make a single assumption? There is simply too much at stake.