The Curiosity Factor in Sales and Leadership
In life, we uncover thousands of possibilities, sometimes leading to new relationships, business opportunities, and novel ways of doing things. But we need that initial germ of an idea—Polaroid was founded on a single question from an engineer’s curious three-year-old: “Daddy, why do we have to wait to see our pictures?”
What lies at the root of every great invention, transformation, and friendship, is curiosity. Unless salespeople are truly curious, they fail to: engage prospects, master new products offerings or grow from constructive feedback.
According to researchers, curiosity is rather simple “It comes when we feel a gap ‘between what we know and what we want to know.’ It feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because that’s how we scratch the itch.”
This may seem intuitive, but unfortunately, many salespeople and leaders fall short.
As an example, years ago, the manager of a large conglomerate asked me to help a struggling new salesperson. Everyone called him Buzzcut Bruce. Bruce was new to sales. As it turned out, he had excelled as a private investigator in Louisiana, but after moving to Colorado, he thought he’d take a whack at a career in sales.
Whenever I coach a new salesperson, I focus on the discovery questions they ask their clients. Bruce asked the right questions, all right, but his questioning quickly deteriorated into interrogations. Not a good idea.
Here’s an example:
“So, Melinda, you just mentioned you’ve been using Thimble Fish as your technology platform.”
“Yes,” the prospect would reply. “When we founded the company, that’s all we really needed.”
“And when did you open your doors for business?” he’d ask.
“Late August 2012.”
Painful pause …
“Hmm … but you said earlier that you’ve used Thimble Fish for nine consecutive years. Assuming you licensed it in 2012, that would mean you’ve used it for five years. Which is it, ma’am?”
I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get a signature on a contract or extract a confession.
Now, this is an extreme example of what not to do. Not all novice salespeople are going to grill their prospects as hard as a former private eye. But my point is this:
Unless salespeople are truly curious, the discovery process may feel like an interrogation to customers. What’s worse, sellers who lack curiosity never learn from mistakes and therefore fail to grow.
You may understand the power of thoughtful discovery questions. You may have memorized what questions to ask and even know precisely when to ask them — only to completely annoy your customers. Why? Because of a lack of genuine curiosity. It’s not enough to ask questions; you actually have to listen for the answers! When objections arise, ask questions that will put the customer at ease and create a connection, rather than going on the defensive.
Leaders too, often stifle curiosity in employees rather than fostering it.
My recommendation for sellers
- Ask questions that help you better understand your customers — not simply those that allow you to elbow in your point of view.
- Ask more, “Why” and “What if” questions. Encourage employees, coworkers and loved ones to ask why and to clarify.
- Do your homework before you meet a prospect. Who is this person? How long has he or she been with the company (what you don’t want to do is pre-judge)
- Dig deep to find out what really matters to your customers at the heart level.
- Get to know your customers’ inner worlds and discover how it affects their outer worlds.
- Instead of reacting negatively, seek to understand why a prospect might be putting off a decision.
- Broaden your interests. Take the time and resources you need to not only deepen, but broaden your expertise. I once heard the phrase, “For every disciplined effort there’s a multiple reward.
My recommendation for leaders
- Ask employees their opinions and really listen. Some of the best ideas will come from where you least expect them, if you’re simply curious.
- When confronted with a new challenge or job, start by asking questions before showing competence. You will actually be seen as more competent.
- Craft interview questions that reveal the natural curiosity of candidates. Google, for example, identifies naturally curious people with interview questions such as “Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before?”
- Model inquisitiveness. Be the first to say, “I’m not certain, but I’ll find out.”
- Refrain from judging others. Ask what might have caused them to react that way? Ask thoughtful questions that help others think more deeply about their own perspectives.
Asking thoughtful questions isn’t simply a matter of methodology; it’s a matter of mentality.
It’s about adopting a mentality of investigating over dictating, learning over teaching and understanding over closing.
Adopting a Curious Mindset may not help you convict a suspect, but it will certainly help you sell a prospect.