Be a Why’s Guy

The Why’s Guy Method to Better Selling

For those of us that remember being called a “Wise Guy”, we know it’s not really a good thing.  In slang, it meant you were over-confident, conceited, kind of a know-it-all.  In the Three Stooges episode, it was the comment right before Moe would hit Curly.  In mafia slang, I don’t think it was a compliment either.  However, in sales, I want you to become a Why’s Guy.  A small change in spelling which opens up a whole new world of information from your customer.

In his 7 Habits book, Stephen Covey told us to seek first to understand, then to be understood.  In sales, this means seeking first to understand the needs of our customer, then telling them all about your products.  Too many salespeople reverse this order and then struggle.  They tell their customer about their products before seeking to understand the customer’s needs.

In sales workshops, I stress this point from the moment we begin until the very end.  The reason is that I see far too many salespeople skip or do a poor job of seeking to understand their customers.  Everyone in sales wants to learn how to close more sales.  The answer is almost never in better closing techniques.  The solution to closing more sales lies in their ability to ask a multitude of “Why” questions.

In Six Sigma training, it’s called the 5-Why Analysis.  It’s based on uncovering the root cause of any problem by asking “Why” five times.  Most problems don’t require the full five “Why’s” to be asked.  Applying this methodology to selling, we are not solving a problem necessarily.  We are trying to understand why our customer does or does not do certain actions.  Before we try to get our customer to change a behavior or buying pattern, we truly need to understand why they do what they currently do.

For example:

  • Why do they buy from that company? That salesperson? And why for so long?
  • Why did they change a farming practice this year?
  • Why are they so focused on cash flow, yields, buying land, or new iron every year?
  • Why don’t they adopt no-till practices?
  • Why don’t they forward book their grain?
  • Why do they not track the ROI of increased input costs versus increased yield?
  • Why does no one in this area have on-farm storage?
  • Why don’t they split the herd into a high and low production group?

At this point, you might think these are basic questions that a salesperson would ask their customer.  Especially if that salesperson has been working with that customer for 5, 10, or 15 years.  However, in my years as a sales manager and sales coach, I observed too many salespeople who couldn’t answer those very questions.  Many times, they had been working with that customer for over 10 years, but never asked, the obvious “Why”.

Here’s the secret to asking Why questions.  You really shouldn’t use the word “Why”.  When you ask a customer, “Why do you buy from that supplier?” they instantly have to justify their choices.  They start listing all the reasons they like that supplier.  And if you don’t know the customer very well, a Why question can seem accusatory, like they are doing something wrong.  While you truly do want to know why, a subtle twist to the wording will help you get far better answers.

Take the why and turn it into a “What”, “How” or “When” style question.  This will take that potentially accusatory tone out of the situation.

A perfect example happened to me last Saturday.  I walked into Lowes for the third time to hopefully get my electrical issues figured out on a DIY project.  This time, I brought everything from my home that I could possibly bring:  switches, wires, and even pictures on my phone of what I couldn’t bring with me.  Hank, a retired electrician was on duty to help answer questions.  When I showed him what I had and what I was trying to do, he burst out with, “Why would you ever want to do that?”  Now, I don’t really know Hank (he had a name tag on) and I wasn’t in a really good mood to begin with.  So, I immediately took offense.  I started to justify why I was trying to do what I was currently doing.  I was even getting a little defensive when he was shaking his head in disbelief.  Halfway into my explanation, I just shut down and said, “Hank, what do you think I should do?”

My point is that Hank put me on the defensive.  He is a good electrician and knew a much better way for me to solve my problem.  However, using the accusatory why style question, he immediately put me at odds with him.

He could have easily started out his question with, “What are you trying to get done?” or, “How did you get to this point in the project?” or, “When you say run back to the fuse box, what do you mean?”  Any of those style questions would easily have me explaining what’s going on. 

Apply this technique in your approach to get customers talking but not defensively explaining themselves.  It’s not an inquisition.  It’s discovery.

Curiosity doesn’t kill cats; it helps you sell

You might be struggling at this point to figure out which Why questions to ask.  The solution is to get curious.  You can even start your Why question out with a curiosity preface.  For example, “I’m curious, what kept you with ABC company for all those years?”

If you’re still not coming up with the needed questions, spur your curiosity with an old grade school exercise.  Remember when they would give you a set of pictures and ask, “Which one is not the same?”  You can use that technique to ask, “What’s different about this customer than all the rest?” 

If most producers in an area have on-farm storage except this one, why?  If you travel a large geography, you can apply this style of question to producers in an area.  For example, in the IN/OH area, most customers rent land on a cash rent basis.  In this area, it’s almost all share crop.  Why?. 

If your customer has changed suppliers recently or never, ask them why.  The perfect question might sound like, “You mentioned that you switched suppliers last year from ABC to XYZ company (usually the customer will nod in agreement which allows you to turn it into the question).  “What was it that made you go with XYZ?” 

If your customer has been with the same supplier for 20 years, the question might sound like, “You mentioned being with ABC for 20 years.” (again, the customer will nod in agreement, which allows the statement).  “They must be taking really good care of you.”  That’s not really a question.  It’s a statement that they need to confirm or deny.  If they don’t, then ask, “What is it that’s kept you with them all these years?”

Good luck as you head out today and practice your skills as a Why’s Guy.  I’m sure you will learn a wealth of knowledge about your customer.  Not just to sell them, but to truly understand them better.  All this will make you one notch above your competition who are just trying to sell a product versus becoming a trusted advisor to their customers. 

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