Traits of Top Salespeople

"Top salespeople are curious: they ask high-value questions that probe to the heart of the issue."

Curiosity May Not Kill The Cat, But It Definitely Kills Your Quota

Curiosity May Not Kill The Cat, But It Definitely Kills Your Quota

Salespeople are often told to “pitch” their products and services. This is ineffective because it leaves the prospect feeling like they were manipulated and ignored. Instead, the successful salesperson should use curiosity; curiosity is an emotion that encourages people to find out more about you or your company. 

If you want to increase your success rate at closing deals with prospects, try incorporating curiosity into your conversation by asking open-ended questions.

Podcaster Robert Gillette recently interviewed me for his podcast, Reclaiming Sales. In that podcast (which you can listen to here and read the transcript here), I said that salespeople fail because they are not curious.

Some sales trainers will encourage salespeople to be incredibly knowledgeable about a prospect’s business to show situational awareness. In almost all cases, this is a bad strategy. Why would you know more about how that company runs than the managers of the company do? To suggest that you are more capable of running your prospect’s company than they are leaves you open to appearing overly pompous. It is much better to be humble and ask sincere questions about their operations.

“You make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

For decades, marketers have known that the best way to keep someone’s attention is by piquing their curiosity. If they’re interested in what you’ve got, they’ll stick around and interact with your message. It seems like such a simple idea, but it’s one of the most powerful tools in marketing today.

The same principle of generating curiosity applies to salespeople, too: if prospects are curious about what we can offer them, they will be more likely to invest time working with us on their request or inquiry than not engaging at all. For this technique to work, though, there has to be something worth being curious about–something that captures people’s imagination.

Recent research suggests that salespeople who are curious about their prospects and customers are more likely to close deals than those who only focus on what they need from them. Curiosity helps us get our prospect’s perspectives to understand better how they think and why they act as they do, which allows us to connect with them on an emotional level and make them want to buy from us.

Salespeople have a unique ability to create curiosity. They can do this by asking insightful, thought-provoking questions that pique the interest of their prospects and customers. To maximize their success in creating curiosity, salespeople must be knowledgeable about what they are selling and how it can benefit the customer or prospect. A salesperson creates curiosity when there is an air of mystery with an underlying promise of satisfaction for those who invest time learning more about the product or service.

The best salespeople create curiosity and capture the attention of their prospects. They do this by creating a dialogue about themselves, their company, or the product they’re selling. You accomplish this through storytelling, humor, and empathy. These are the three legs of your offering that I often discuss on this site.

There are a few ways to use your presentation skills to engage with your audience and generate curiosity. Here are some examples:

  • Quote someone famous, like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates, who has said something about their business
  • Give them a story from just last week or last month where they helped someone solve a problem they were having
  • Ask, “What are your biggest business challenges?”
  • Ask, “How do you measure success in your organization?”
  • Ask, “How did you justify that old purchase to your executives?”
  • Ask, “What’s essential in life for you?”
  • Ask, “How do you feel when this happens?”
  • Ask, “How does that work?”
  • Ask, “How did you decide to do it that way?”

In addition, by asking prospects about their company’s goals, salespeople can better understand how they work and what tools they need to succeed.

If you’re a salesperson, it’s essential to know the business problems your customers are facing. That way, you can make sure that what you offer will be relevant and valuable to them. It also helps if you have some ideas for solutions. At least have a list of questions about what they’re looking to accomplish and their company and personal goals. The more information you have about their needs, the better you’ll identify potential solutions and put together a tailored proposal specifically for them. So next time someone asks, “What do I need?” remember these three key points:

  1. Ask why they need it;
  2. Figure out how this will help solve their problem;
  3. Make sure it fits with other items on their agenda.

One Reply to “Curiosity May Not Kill The Cat, But It Definitely Kills Your Quota”

  1. Thanks for the post. I initially found your page by searching ‘how/why quotas kill great sales people’ I’m considered a sales leader in my organization but I consistently find that sales is a listening business- NOT a talking business. Customer’s everyday struggle with problems that we can solve if we stop talking about ourselves or our products and instead be curious by asking some form of the “the 5 questions”:
    what are the challenges you are facing
    how long have you been struggling with xyz
    what have you tried to fix xyz
    what do you think xyz is costing you
    what would it mean to you to solve xyz
    … your message was spot on- you are building a relationship with your client. When you are interested in them, they will reciprocate. When you’re not, there is no room for trust to root. In long sales cycles sales people are often held to an unrealistic and demotivating quota. It kills the relationship b/c the client feels you’re primary goal is to “sell them something” instead of “helpign them solve a problem”. Unrealistic quotas can create fear leading to burned out employees and customers. Removing the “quota” demand may empower salespeople to genuinely invest in their careers and to produce the customer loyalty most organizations can only dream of. This seems like a ‘Captain Obvious” statement.
    Thanks again for the post.

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