Espionage and Intelligence

In every other kind of war, each side spies on the other and has intelligence agents whose job it is to find out what its side is going up against. In selling, we usually call that qualifying the customer. But “qualify” is a word that has a lot of different meanings. One of them is like “eligible”.  That’s why I like to think of this part of the selling job as espionage and intelligence. I want to know what the customer wants to do and what he ought to do and what he can afford to do.

Espionage and Intelligence

Sometimes all of those things turn out to be the same. But a lot of time they are different. What the customer wants may not be something he’ll be happy with or can afford. I listen to what a customer says he wants, and I try to give it to him. But if I think it won’t work for him or that he can’t afford it and can afford something better, then I make up my own mind. But how do I know what to try to sell a customer? I look and I listen and I ask. What I look and listen for are things that will open him up, get him talking, so that he will tell me about himself, his needs, and his ability to pay. Most people don’t understand enough about life insurance to know what they need, so they let their salesman decide.

With a car, it is not quite the same. You don’t try very hard to sell a man a two-seat sports car if he has a wife and four kids. So you’re playing a game with the customer, trying to find out what’s best for him no matter what he says. Because what’s best for him is best for you, if you want him to speak well of you and come back some day for another one. An experienced salesman can read a customer. If you pay attention to details you can learn a lot. I can walk around and look inside a person’s car and tell you everything about it and about its owner.

There are obvious things, like how many miles on the odometer, and the number of service station stickers on the door-jamb and their mileage. Obviously, they tell me how much driving the man does in a year and how carefully he takes care of his car. When I open the trunk to look at his spare tire and I find fishing tackle, I have something else to talk about. Fishermen love to talk about where they fish and what they have caught. I’ll ask him about where he’s been fishing lately, and pretty soon he’ll tell me about a fish he caught that was this big. I hear some salespeople come right back with “That’s nothing. I caught one that big last Sunday”. So what? So you’ve made him think that maybe the biggest event in his life isn’t worth talking about. This is business, and if all he caught was a minnow, make him think it was the whale that swallowed Jonah. You want to bring him over to your side.

Another thing I keep an eye out for is windshield and bumper stickers. Political stuff I say nothing about, because politics is not something you can talk about with a customer without getting into trouble. I want to talk about the other kinds of stickers that resorts put on or that you get when you go to a national park or other tourist attraction. If I see a trailer hitch on the rear end that tells me even more about him. He is a camper or a boater. And if there is a baby seat or any toys, I have learned something else about the man, his needs and his interests.

I know when the customer is relaxing, because I read his body language. I watch his face, his eyes and the way he holds his arms. While all of this is going on, I am finding out what he needs and what he can be sold. We all know that you can’t sell them all. But the commonest reason for losing a customer who seemed really interested is not listening enough or watching his face and body movements. Let him offer you the clues to his hesitation and reluctance. You can learn a lot more by watching and listening than you can by talking. Let the customer reveal himself, while you watch and listen, and he’ll lay himself open for the close.