The phrase, “selling is not telling, it’s asking questions”, has been with me pretty much all of my work life. It’s one that rings true for me today as much as it did a long time ago when I first learned about the sales profession.
My first full-time “career” job had me selling logistics services to companies in the greater San Jose area as an “Account Representative”. Basically it was a entry-level field sales position.
I worked for a big, multinational company, and they provided plenty of training and reference materials to help their sales organization develop their knowledge and skills around the sales process (as the company saw it), and the services (products) we offered. The “selling is not telling” phrase came from one of those reference sheets I carried in my work bag. I carried that reference sheet for a lot of years as a reminder.
Because we sold services, the “sale” often had a lot of nuance. This is where the questions came in. Asking a lot of good questions, rather than just babbling on with a sales pitch, was the approach I learned, to uncover possible avenues for positioning our company’s service advantages vis-a-vis our competitors.
The old adage, “we have two ears and one mouth, and we should listen and talk in the same proportion” applied to the way I learned to do business. Get folks talking, and then listen carefully. Relationships were also very important to getting business, keeping business, and growing business.
These basic traits have held up well over the years. Asking questions actually accomplishes both objectives. By asking questions you learn more about your client (or “prospect”, if you’re not currently doing business together). Also, if you’re sincere and respectful, the questions you ask demonstrate that you’re interested in the other person. That circumstance helps nurture the underlying rapport, the relationship.
I have a good friend who’s been a sales guy as long as I have. He’s also a business owner, and has done very well. He might say that selling is also “persuading.” That might be so. But I think it’s the questions, the problems you uncover and help solve with the answers, and the relationships you develop and keep that lay the foundation. These traits are really at the core of doing business long-term. And that’s good for everyone involved.