Be Like Curious George

By Heather Baldwin

As a young salesperson, Steve White had a colleague his fellow reps nicknamed Curious George for his genuine curiosity about clients’ business and personal lives. That curiosity won George a lot of sales. “George had a consistent and effective way of getting his clients and prospects to reveal their most important and underlying problems, concerns, issues and futures,” says White, who today is president of Effectivation, a Toronto, Ontario-based company that trains people in consultative selling and client relationship skills. Those revelations, says White, enabled George to put forth more compelling proposals than his competitors, who only were able to obtain information about surface-level issues. Want to boost your sales? Help your reps be more like Curious George. Here’s how, says White.

Attitude. George’s mantra was this: Take into consideration and do one’s best for a customer’s interests and feelings. “While this might sound simple, most sellers are not good at consistently living by it,” says White. “It’s too tempting and too easy to tell your own story, rather than focusing on understanding the customer’s story.”

Planning. George never dreamed of going to meet with a customer or prospect without first planning out the meeting. He researched the customer’s industry and business and thought about the outcome he desired from the meeting. He planned out how he would open the meeting and how he would get the customer representatives’ attention by telling them what they would get out of the meeting. He always shared his agenda with his customers. “George was surprised to learn that most salespeople don’t plan their meetings; they wing them,” White recalls.

Questions. George understood that to get customers to reveal to him their underlying needs, he needed to ask the right questions at the right time. So he planned his questions in advance, taking care that the wording, content, scope and sequencing was just right. He often would read his questions directly from his meeting planner so he’d be sure to ask them exactly the way he wanted. His customers, says White, often would respond with: That’s a good question, George or, It’s interesting you should ask that.

Listen and Probe. “George knew the power of silence and learned to be comfortable in the silence that naturally occurred in dialogues with his customers,” recalls White. “He used silence as a way to get more information from customers, and it always surprised him how effectively it worked.” He also found that as customers talked, they would raise issues about which George needed to probe further, asking additional questions about the meaning, reason and significance of the issues to the customer.

Summarize. Finally, George would summarize back to customers the key issues he had uncovered in the meeting and then ask the customers to confirm his understanding. “Because he took good notes during the meeting, George’s summaries often were quite accurate,” says White. “However, there were times when George may have misunderstood the customer. Because he asked for their confirmation, however, they made sure he understood where they were coming from.”

The result: George was able to put forth a more concise and compelling recommendation than his competitors and thus won more than his fair share of business. To learn how your reps can become more curious about their clients’ businesses, visit www.effectivation.com.