Question First, Then Present

By Heather Baldwin

Imagine you sell photocopiers and that the secretary of a potential client calls saying her boss needs to buy a copier and wants to see one that afternoon. You skip lunch, load your top-of-the-line model into your car and drive 50 miles to make the presentation. You arrive early to ensure you have plenty of time to set up because your product does everything – runs colors, collates thousands of pages, handles two-sided copies with ease and speed. You’re confident the prospect will be wowed. So far, so good, right?

Not for the sales rep who confessed this true story to Bill Brooks, CEO of The Brooks Group, an international sales training and business growth firm based in Greensboro, North Carolina ( The prospect walked in, took one look at the machine and said he didn’t need such an advanced model. “We never do colors and we don’t have any use for collating,” the prospect told the rep. “What I want is a machine that will give me top quality prints of single pages and spit them out in a hurry.” And that was that. The rep never even got a chance to give his presentation.

Still hoping the sale could be salvaged, the salesperson said he could be back the next morning with the right machine. No luck – the prospect said he was going out of town that night and suggested the rep call the following week to set up an appointment. When he did so, he learned the prospect had bought a competitor’s inferior product for a higher price than the top-of-the-line model he’d just rejected – all because the rep failed to ask a few basic questions before hitting the road to give his presentation.

It’s a critical lesson that deserves repetition, says Brooks. “Very often you get one good shot at demonstrating your product or service. Anything you show after that is anticlimactic, even if you get a second chance,” he explains. “Downgrading can be embarrassing for the client and upgrading can be tough for you. The only way to really know what to show is to question thoroughly until you are certain you understand your prospects’ needs.”