Don’t Be a Know It All

In preparation for a recent workshop, I was asked to bring my best sales tip and to be prepared to deliver it on camera. Wait, only one? Isn’t the class all about sales tips? In addition to material I’ve learned as a Gitomer Certified Advisor, I have an office full of binders and books with sales tips I have accumulated over the years. Not to mention, I have a sales coaching business and countless hours of client coaching calls where I share tips I’ve learned in my 25 years of sales and client management roles.

How on earth will I choose just ONE best tip?

If I look back over the past few years at sales teams I have worked with and at my own successes and failures, I see one consistent idea that blocks many would-be successful sales people from achieving their goals: They feel they need to KNOW IT ALL.

Yes, I admit, I am a reformed know-it- all (my childhood friends and family can stop laughing now). I always felt I needed more product training, along with one more certification, one more degree, and one more example of how to handle a specific objection, and then I would be ready for that sales call. I have watched sales professionals at every level lose countless days, months, quarters, years and even JOBS to this mistaken idea that they need to know everything.

Here’s a truth…you will never know it all!

There, feel better? No matter how hard you try to anticipate every question and answer, you will never know it all.

“Okay” you say, “but what happens when the customer asks me a question I don’t know the answer to?” Relax. You can develop a strategy that will make even the staunchest know-it- all happy.

Here are a few tips you can use to avoid that dreaded blank stare when asked a question you don’t know:

  1. Anticipate questions in advance. DISCLAIMER: Don’t let this step become a crutch, but you do need to prepare for your sales calls (I’ll discuss sales call preparation in a future post). What questions would you have if you were the customer? Who you would go to for answers to those questions yourself? Don’t let obvious questions trip you up.
  2. Ask clarifying questions. Sometimes you DO know the answer, but the way the question was asked has thrown you. Even if you are sure you don’t know the answer, ask a couple of clarifying questions to ensure you know how to articulate the question when you go in search of the answer. Be certain you can get to the root of why the question is being asked in the first place. Is it because of a previous experience they had with another partner? Is there another objective you haven’t uncovered yet that is driving the question?
  3. Admit you aren’t sure. You should view not knowing the answer to a question as a positive; it’s a very valid reason for a follow-up discussion with your customer. Maybe even an opportunity to expand your sales account team in the customer’s eyes by including the subject matter expert on a follow- up call.
  4. Follow-up within 48 hours. Many times, an “I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can find out for you” will garner more respect and loyalty from your customer than if you spouted out the answer on the spot. You will kill this advantage though if you do not follow-up in a timely manner. Preferably within the next 48 hours.

There have been times where I have seen sales people purposefully deploy these techniques even when they could have answered the question for a client. Not in a deceitful way, but they would find an opportunity to show that they have and can pull from resources outside of their own brains.

NEWS FLASH: Your customer does not want you to know it all.

They need to be reassured that you are a part of a much larger support system within your organization. You are their guide to that system. Your customer and your colleagues will respect you for your willingness to ask for help and will come to rely on your ability, not to know all the answers, but to know where to find them.

So don’t be a know-it- all. Go ahead; make that sales call, meeting, and presentation today! Don’t wait. You’ll learn more by being in front of one customer than you will by spending weeks trying to find the perfect answers to everything.

“Don’t be a know-it- all” is my best sales tip. What’s yours?

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