The other day I was in a retail establishment and Linda, a sales rep, approached a manager, Alan working the area.

“Hi,” “Hi” they said. “How’s everything going?” asked Linda. To which Alan said, “Okay.” “Well, fine. Is there anything you need right now?” asked Linda. “No, we’re fine”, he ...The other day I was in a retail establishment and Linda, a sales rep, approached a manager, Alan working the area.

“Hi,” “Hi” they said. “How’s everything going?” asked Linda. To which Alan said, “Okay.” “Well, fine. Is there anything you need right now?” asked Linda. “No, we’re fine”, he said. “That’s great. Now don’t forget about our new products session Tuesday afternoon. Will you be there?” “I’ll try to make it”, Alan said kindly and she left to talk with another store sales rep.

I didn’t follow Linda to hear her next conversation with one of the other managers, but I’ll bet it was similar. So I decided to do a test. I introduced myself to Alan and mentioned I had observed the exchange, and asked if I could interview him as if I were that rep. He agreed and the following took place:

Question 1
“What issues or challenges are you experiencing in your department as it related to Linda’s products?” I listened as he talked for a few minutes.
Question 2
“Wave a magic wand,” I said. “What would you do if you could have anything to help you improve this situation?” I listened as he went on and on.

I had to finally stop him. “Now, what if Linda had asked you these questions?” “That’s really interesting,” he said. “You got more out of me in a few minutes than Linda has ever gotten out of me in all her visits.”

What’s sad is that Linda missed some easy sales and lost an opportunity to be seen as someone special to Alan. Alan gave me about three issues where Linda could have offered solutions that would have helped him out.

Selling now is different than selling a few years ago. People know more. The internet has exposed them to more and they expect more.


Reps must be prepared to ask questions that encourage potential buyers to talk about their professional situation and issues. What gets a person to open up is the feeling you want to know about his “day”. He gets the feeling from the questions focused on him (not your stuff), your listening mannerisms and your genuine sincerity, rather than your initiative to sell. Every day is different with a new mood and another set of problems for a buyer. Therefore, never assume they’ve told it all to you before. Ask and listen and you’ll see all the opportunities unravel before you. Additionally every individual is different and even if you’ve heard it a thousand times from others, this buyer is special. Situations and decision makers are very dynamic and the rep must react in a blink to ask question to extract usable information. Use the two questions above (adapted to you) over and over with the same buyers. You’ll be amazed what you learn.

However, the questions will be useless sales rep lets the person talk and listens actively. She must be patient, letting the person figure out what to say. She must avoid projecting meaning. When the person says, “Your services are great.” What does the person specifically mean by great? She must avoid reacting when the person says something derogatory or something good about the competition. Embrace these moments and query to learn more.

What typically happens is that reps go in with the idea to sell – and become pushy. After doing this for a while, they pick up facials and reactions which make it clear they are being annoying. So they back off and make pleasantries. Then they figure that as long as they make contact – their rounds – the potential buyers will open up when they are ready. By then it’s too late. Competition has moved in or the buyer has decided, by himself, what to do.

The best approach is to interview individuals every time the rep makes a stop. That should be the main purpose of the stop – to pull from the individual his latest thoughts, ideas, problems, etc. “What’s new?” needs to be replaced with something more provocative to get the individual to open up. “What are some of the latest challenges the boss has laid on you as it relates to the (generic type of) products/services – not the rep’s per se? The decision must feel the sales person is interested in him – not how he sees the reps products. “What’s really working today with your yada yada? What’s not?”

A decision maker will tell you everything to sell him if you know how to pull. Even if he says things that go against everything you stand for and offer, listen. If he senses you are genuinely interested, it will build trust and credibility. Then he will warm to your alternatives and get engaged when you start telling about your stuff. He will sense you now understand his issues and what you are saying is your effort to help him. Without getting this person to actually tell you something, he will sense the push, the advertisement, the attempt to sell him, which is all self serving to you – not him.

The above approach provides the ammunition to be proactive and solve problems without being pushy. It will prevent competition from displacing you or stealing your share. It will get the buyer to see you as a resource to help protect and enhance his sales. This is the essence of a professional relationship and how big and continuing sales are made.

This approach is a process. It’s a mindset. It’s the way to sell. But, it requires training and rehearsal. This sounds simple but it’s not. It requires discipline and patience. If you or your people never learned and don’t know any different, then they are fine – like Linda. Equip your people now with skills to interview and react effectively - in a blink.

And now I invite you to learn more.

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