What happens when we make assumptions? The movie, The Return of the Pink Panther, provides a great lesson. Peter Sellers, playing the immortal character, Inspector Clouseau, sees a hotel clerk holding a dog on a leash and asks, "Does your dog bite?"
The clerk responds "no," and Clouseau reaches to pet the dog, which immediately bites his hand."I thought you said your dog did not bite!" he exclaims. To which, the clerk replies, "That is not my dog."
In sales, how do we know if our prospective customers are answering the questions we think we're asking? How do we know if we're asking the best questions—or even the right questions? The Pink Panther vignette illustrates both humorously and poignantly what can happen if we take actions when there are incongruities between questions and perceived answers.
So I reflected on my inventory of sales calls over 20 years and came up with two examples—one showing failure, the other success—that illustrate what can happen when you're asking questions in selling.
My conclusion: Getting to the right answers requires careful thought and constant practice. There aren't any shortcuts, but there are some best practices.
I worked for several weeks to secure an appointment with the vice president of operations for a large national chain of dollar retail stores, which I'll call Stuff for a Buck. My company's product was a suite of bar code scanning hardware, software, label printers and services. To prepare, I studied the dollar chain's distribution, logistics and competitive challenges. I was ready for The Meeting at Stuff for a Buck.