When sellers make assumptions, sales are lost.
Assuming is not only dangerous. It’s arrogant. It’s off-putting. It’s lazy and it doesn’t work. As a rule, sellers should never, ever assume.
Let me describe the 3 hot spots in a sales process where I see the most and the most dangerous assumptions being made.
3 Hot Spots Where Assumptions Are Made in Sales
1. Making Assumptions about the Buyer's Needs
A few months ago, I was engaged in a mini-debate with an author who postulates that consultative selling is dead. He claims that the best sales reps go straight for the close. He advocates the old school methodology of ABC Selling – that’s "Always Be Closing," right from the first moment you meet the prospect.
I asked him “what about selling to customer needs?” And he said “The customer ought to be smart enough to look out for their own needs. Sales reps shouldn’t be wasting time with that.”
This really gave me pause, because I think everything old is becoming new again. In essence, this author isn’t even recommending that you sell to an assumed need. He says sell whatever you want to regardless of customer need…
This next statement I’m about to make will shock people who have worked with me before. I think this author is on to something.
I have to agree with him. But with a caveat. IF a seller is going to sell whatever they want or IF a seller doesn’t really have a full suite of products and services to sell, then why pretend? If it isn’t about the customer’s needs, then don’t playact at consultative selling.
For the rest of us, however, I cannot agree that consultative selling is dead. I see it thriving and working every single day especially when sellers take the lead role. The ONLY time it falls apart is when a sales rep skips the step related to discovering the customer’s needs… Reps do this because they assume they know the needs. They tell me “everybody in this type of business needs to ______.” Or “I already did a needs assessment with the customer last year…”
Both responses cripple the effectiveness of consultative selling which is based on the premise that customer needs are constantly evolving and sales reps who know those current needs can partner to create superior solutions.
So, just like I would say to my author friend and sales reps who sell a single product… I will also say to sellers who assume – If you are going to do that, don’t pretend to be a consultative salesperson. Your assumptions derail you and make people like my author friend think that a valid and effective methodology has passed its prime.
Never assume you know your customer’s needs because there is no way on earth that you know more than they do about their own business. Operating with that level of arrogance or laziness (or is it both?) doesn’t serve you or your customer well.
2. Making Assumptions About the Budget
I wish I had just a fraction of all the money I’ve seen sales reps leave on the table. When I probe this with sales reps, they say things like “well, that’s as much as she’s ever spent with me in a month” or “If I ask for more they’ll think I’m pushy,” or “I don’t want to scare them away with price.”
None of these statements is based in any kind of knowledge about the customer’s budget. These are assumptions that the customer will react negatively if the sales rep offers more.
You know I could go on and on about the layers here… But let me just say this. Your job is to sell. The customer’s job is to buy what they need. Give the customer the right to say “no” instead of saying it for them!
Never assume that what they have spent is all they will spend. Never assume that offering something of value will offend someone. And never, ever assume that you know enough about the customer’s business to make their business decisions for them.
3. Making Assumptions that the Buyer Speaks Your Language
This one happens in nearly every sales call I observe. Every industry, every company and every product type has a language associated with it. When you sell that product for that company in that industry, you know the lingo and it flows naturally off your tongue no matter who you are talking to. The problem is this – not all buyers know the same lingo. They may know the industry well but still not be familiar with the names you use for your product’s features.
Every time a seller uses language that is unfamiliar to the customer, they risk letting the customer tune out. Sellers who speak their own language soon sound like the teachers in the Peanuts TV shows… Whaah Whahh Wha Wha Wha…
Here’s an example. Sales reps selling newspaper advertising works outside their own industry – the people who buy ads direct (not through an advertising agency) are seldom experts in media terminology. When presenting to them, sales reps can’t use their own jargon and expect to be understood. Here’s what it sounds like when they do –
“I’m recommending a frequency campaign in ROP with a 3 x 11 and I’ll request far forward for you. We’ll add to the media mix by bundling in ROS online, guaranteeing you 100,000 impressions. The cpm on this package is just…”
Seriously. Sales reps say this and assume the buyer knows what they mean. Why not just say it in plain speak? "This ad schedule will run in the print version of the paper, towards the front of the paper, in a quarter-page format. The ad will also appear online in multiple places on our website. It will be shown a minimum of 100,000 times online. The schedule repeats your print ad X number of times so you will be seen often enough and by enough people to be effective. When we break it down, the cost per thousand is…"
Never assume that others know your lingo. Even if they use your lingo, they may understand it differently. Stick to plain language for clarity!
It’s such an easy fix to go from making assumptions to not making them. All it takes is a little bit of time to check in. A simple question like “I’m operating under the assumption that your planned expansion is still on track. Before I go too far down that path, what updates can you share with me?”
Just think of all the time you’ll save in rework if you check before acting on assumptions. On top of that, you will have current information and be able to position your solutions with immediacy and relevance. You will be more effective every time you turn assumptions into bona fide, verified information.
About the Author: Deb Calvert has worked as a Corporate Director in a Fortune 500 company and as a consultant, coach and trainer to nearly 400 businesses of all sizes. She helps leaders, managers and sellers become more effective in their roles. Deb is a certified executive coach, and one of 2015's Top 50 Sales Influencers. Her bestselling book, DISCOVER Questions Get You Connected®, is based on field research with buyers and what they want from sales professionals.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published in September 2015 and has been recently updated.