Want To Sell Well? Think Like a Four-Year Old

During my career, I’ve been blessed with the good fortune of meeting many of the most amazing sales minds out there. Brian Tracy, Tom Hopkins, Neil Rackham, and many more.  I didn’t just shake their hands; I read their books, read their articles, listened to their tapes, watched their videos, and did my very best to apply what I learned from them.  They taught me volumes. However, one of the greatest techniques I’ve ever learned didn’t come from a great sales mind, but rather, from a four-year old.

It’s funny how often some of the greatest lessons we’ll ever learn come from the least obvious sources, and those lessons are packaged in the simplest way. Case in point: The lesson I learned and I’m writing about here was so simple that I didn’t even know it was a lesson!

The lesson started innocently enough.  I was taking my son to nursery school, engaged in a typical father-son conversation involving what I did for a living.  He was curious so I told him a little about my then current job as a sales trainer for Xerox. I thought I had done a pretty good job of keeping it simple, and focusing on how important it was to teach salespeople the proper way to sell.  Then he hit me with one, simple question: “Cuz why?”

I cleared my throat and explained to him that the type of training I was conducting not only allowed Xerox to maintain its reputation as the best trained sales force in the world, but it also helped my students to be more successful. It even inspired them to achieve goals they may not have believed they could obtain.  Sure, the response might have been over his head a bit, but I was ready to move on to another topic.  Apparently, he had other ideas and hit me again: “Cuz why?”

I must have been a bit parched because I once again found myself clearing my throat, while I was mentally trying to figure out how to better answer his question.  Realizing I couldn’t shake him by going over his head with my response, I shortened my response, and I told him that when people are well-trained and motivated, they enjoy their work more.  It wasn’t working, and out came another: “Cuz why?”

This continued, and we kept going deeper, but please note this; he wasn’t asking these questions to frustrate or annoy me.  He seemed to really value what I was telling him, and he really wanted to know the answer.  He made me think hard about my responses, and I realized that I was talking about things I rarely even thought about –  let alone had a conversation about.  I began to realize my four-year old was not only problem solving, but he was demonstrating one of the most important, and difficult, sales moves any salesperson could ever deploy. He was going beyond the basic questions and going deeper with those questions… and he was making it look easy!

If you do read any of the books from the authors quoted above, (including mine, at some point) you will read that the conversation needs to focus on questioning the customer at a deeper level – beyond the basics.  This not only creates trust; it allows salespeople to earn the right to ask more difficult questions.  Why do we ask the more difficult questions? We do it because people fear change, and that fear can mask problems that haven’t become big problems… yet.  Digging deeper allows others to better understand the impact of the issues they are dealing with, and it forces them to really think about those issues. The answers aren’t coming out of your mouth; they’re coming out of theirs.

So why don’t salespeople dig deeper? Why aren’t they asking those second and third level questions that are so vital in any conversation?!  The answer isn’t pretty: it’s because it requires thinking on your feet, and as crazy as this sounds, most can’t think of those deep questions fast enough.  Much like a first date, when you can’t think of what questions to ask, and you want to avoid those awkward pauses or uncomfortable moments, we tend to pivot and talk more about ourselves, or our products.  If we do try and create questions on the fly, it’s very easy to want to pack way too much into a single question. That will only make the conversation more confusing and uncomfortable for others.

And along comes a four-year old, who isn’t overthinking anything, or offering any solutions, or working all that hard. Instead, he unleashes a barrage of lethal, “Cuz why’s?” By doing so, this four-year old is getting us to articulate things that a skilled therapist would be challenged to uncover.  That four-year old is participating in a conversation that is wise beyond his years.

Whether you’re a salesperson, consultant, manager, parent, or friend, the next time you sit down with another human being who seems stuck on a problem he or she can’t decide to address, and you sincerely want to help, or you just want to connect on a deeper level, please remember this: You can forget about loading up with unauthentic, stiff questions, or offering your solutions to their problems.  Stay put, think like a four-year old, and try asking, “Cuz why?”

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