Understanding your customer is the key to a sale
Anytime you communicate an idea that you would like someone to adopt, or when you represent a point of view with which you would like someone to agree, you are selling. Selling is simply effective communication that persuades an audience to consider another point of view and helps them prioritize their needs to be able to make an informed decision they can feel good about.
That’s why it is so important to understand what the customer needs, and as a result, how they’d like to feel, before making any product suggestions.
Implicit v. Explicit Criteria
All of us are customers in a variety of different environments in our daily lives. Whether we are buying clothing, groceries, automobiles, electronics, travel, necessities or luxuries for ourselves or as presents for others, we have a list of criteria that we apply for these purchases.
However, without ever realizing it, a portion of these criteria is “implicit” while other issues are “explicit.” That means, not only have you already narrowed the options you will consider before you ever begin to shop, but there are some motivators that will compel you to purchase that you may not have really thought at all about.
Unlike explicit criteria, which are top of mind, and often logical; “implicit” or unspoken criteria can be the result of rightly or wrongly held assumptions or attitudes about a product based on an impression, someone else’s input, or just a “feeling.”
The Customer’s Point of View
The customer’s point of view, simply stated, is “what’s in it for me?” It is difficult to get someone’s attention unless the product or service benefits are clearly stated up front – and the customer will not be able to make the decision to buy unless those benefits meet both their implicit and explicit criteria.
In order to help the customer understand how the benefits meet their purchase criteria, you must first determine exactly what those criteria are. To identify those needs, you have to “probe” for answers. This calls for two different types of questioning.
In the process of gathering information, it is helpful to use both “open-ended” and “close-ended” questions. Open-ended questions are those that allow the customer to offer explanations about situations, problems or how they may feel about particular alternatives. (e.g., What do you need? Why do you think that?”
Close-ended questions are those that only require a “yes” or “no” answer. (e.g., Have you ever…? Is that a problem?) The most effective way to get the information you need to be helpful is to use a combination of close-ended questions to raise an issue, followed by open-ended questions aimed specifically at getting as much detail on the situation, the customer’s goals and their perceived problems.
This type of discussion can then be followed by testing the alternative solutions and inviting a reaction and suggestions to address the problems they have just raised. For example…
“Have you ever tried this before?” If the response is yes, then ask, “How did it make you feel? What elements of the experience would you like to repeat? What about it didn’t you like? What would you want to avoid?
Conversely, if the answer is no, then ask, “What is your biggest concern about this solution? What appeals to you most about this alternative? What result would you most want to see?”
These questions are just examples, but this type of questioning is very important because a lot of our purchase behavior is guided by implicit criteria. That means to help the customer get to the point of purchase, it is important to identify what those unarticulated needs are. This usually takes a serious sleuthing effort, because many times the customer is not even aware of them. That is why it is necessary to qualify and prioritize their needs, then translate them into emotional motivators.
The interesting thing about human needs is that they have a basis in emotion. For example, clothing is a vehicle that creates an image and makes the wearer feel attractive. Smartphones are purchased to make the user feel connected, provide convenience and increase productivity, but many are prepared to spend more for the cache of ownership, than simply for the product features.
Good salespeople know that while customers are interested in product features, it is how the product makes them feel that makes them act on a purchase decision. For every explicit product criteria, there is an emotional motivator. For example, luxury brands of cars, watches and liquors know that people can pay a lot less for transportation, to tell time or stock their wet bars, but are willing to pay for the cache of a product that lends status and make the purchaser feel better about him or herself in a social context, no matter how it is rationalized.
If you ask the right questions, a customer will tell you exactly what and how to sell them something – but you have to be listening. And, that’s not just listening, but actively listening – which means acknowledging what the customer has said. When you speak not only do you want to know that someone has listened closely enough to get what you said accurately, but you also want to know that they understand how you feel about it. This requires some assurance or signal to make the customer comfortable that they have made their point and can go on to the next step, confident that you will address their concerns. You must be able to give the customer that reassurance.
The nifty thing about providing that reassurance, is that when you reiterate those customer needs tied to product benefits, you are in fact, directly building a case for value that will help to support the purchase decision.
Working With the Customer Toward the Sale
By probing and understanding the customer’s needs and reiterating, or signaling that you understand what it is they wish to accomplish, you have already created a relationship where you are working together to find acceptable alternatives. By listing a number of different ways to accomplish their goals and inviting them to participate, you can “test” the customer’s perception of the “value” they assign to various choices.
When a customer is contributing to the process in this way, they are more likely to make a psychological commitment to purchase. The other opportunity is to utilize this process to vet out any objections they may have and work together to resolve them. This is the time during the conversation to optimize the sale for your product recommendation, by reiterating the product benefits that specifically apply.
About the Author
Philip M. Cohen is CEO of CMN Holdings, Inc. and their subsidiaries, Cannabis Medical Network, a digital media network airing in cannabis doctors waiting rooms and Cannabis Lifestyle Network, airing in dispensary waiting rooms. Phil has operated a dozen ad supported digital signage networks in doctor offices and at retail since 1985 and is a past Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation.