Healthy Skepticism in Sales

I believe that a certain amount of skepticism is valuable when dealing with potential buyers.   This is because sellers are predisposed to have "happy ears" when trying to understand if their customers want to do business with their company.   Another challenge for sellers is that potential buyers do not like to give bad news to sellers and thus may wait until the last possible moment to deliver that news.   My belief in the value of healthy skepticism in sales is supported by the work of some of my favorite authors on the topic of sales, such as Tom Freese, Brent Adamson, Marcus Sheridan and Ian Altman.

When the seller approaches a customer as a skeptic this means the seller is honestly trying to understand and assist the potential buyer. Sales professionals should use diagnostic questions to determine if buyers fit their ideal customer profile or if the customer would be better served by someone else.   This approach is better than the seller assuming that buyers will buy if sellers just answer customer objections or push harder using aggressive behavior.   In other words, approaching buyers with healthy skepticism will assist the seller by correcting for their bias.  Sales reps are biased towards wanting the customer to buy and they may miss signals that the customer is not a great fit for their product or service.

Correcting for this bias allows the seller to practice better listening skills saving time for both the seller and potential buyers.   In addition, sellers that assist buyers with determining quickly whether or not their products are a good fit become better forecasters.   If your organization has many deals forecasted at the end of the quarter and those deal constantly slip, "happy ears" may be a problem in your organization.

Ian Altman, in his book Same Side Selling, teaches a methodology for salespeople to become better listeners.   He teaches salespeople to take notes in 4 quadrants.  Those quadrants are:

  1. What is the issue? 
  2. What is the impact of not solving the issue?  
  3. What are the likely results of taking specific actions?  
  4. Who are the people who will be affected by this decision?

The Same Side methodology assists with getting sellers on the same side as buyers by understanding that buyers ask themselves three questions when making decisions.

  1. What problem do you solve or why do I need this?  
  2. What is the likely outcome or result?  
  3. Why would I get the seller's help versus try to solve the problem without them? 

Ian coaches sellers to help buyers using this methodology to determine if they are a F.I.T. and recommends quickly referring customers to someone else if they are not an ideal customer.

Brent Adamson, in his book the Challenger Sale, describes the three characteristics of the ideal salesperson.   They are to "Teach, Tailor and Take Control".   These characteristics can be misleading.   I believe that the research done by CEB proves the best salespeople understand customer problems, help customers evaluate potential solutions, and more quickly determine how to solve those problems.

Tom Freese in his book Secrets of Question Based Selling teaches how to use diagnostic questions to build creditability.   Questions should be designed to help both the buyer and seller better understand the buyer's problems.   This methodology is similar to Same Side Selling where the seller is not there to push a buyer into their product.

A similar approach also works well in marketing.  Marcus Sheridan, in his book You Ask, They Answer, approaches content marketing from a similar perspective.   For instance, he believes that marketers should spend time educating customers on who should "NOT" buy their product.   He also believes that marketers should educate buyers by providing honest comparisons of their product versus the competition.   While this approach will reduce the number of leads, most of the leads produced by content marketing using this approach will result in connecting with customers who are well qualified and thus will become happy customers.   Happy customers become great referral sources and cost less to service.

It is time to evaluate your organization honestly.   Can your sales organization benefit from a dose of healthy skepticism in order to serve your customers better?