Have you ever noticed how many questions little kids ask? Every parent has a story to tell about the funny or embarrassing questions their kids have asked at the most inopportune times, all those occasions their child has scrunched up their little face and asked, “Why is Grandma so wrinkly?" or "Why do we have to go to school every day?" or "Why do I have to eat those gross green things?” If you don’t take control of the conversation, the third degree can go on indefinitely—because the curiosity in children is limitless!
Somewhere on the journey from childhood to adult professional, though, much of that unfettered curiosity gets left behind. I would argue that we have become a society of head-nodders where people are often afraid they’ll look dense if they ask a question. You’ve seen it—people nodding in agreement, as if they completely understand, when you are certain they don’t. Their fear of losing the respect of others actually keeps them from learning.
As we grow up, we naturally become more self-conscious, so much of this may be related to those normal insecurities. Or, who knows, maybe all those times our parents said, "Stop asking so many questions!" curbed a bit of our inquisitiveness. Or maybe expressions like "curiosity killed the cat" have actually impacted our innate desire to pry.
In Sales, Curiosity is Your Friend
Whatever the cause, there is no doubt it happens—which is a problem if you are in sales because, in sales, curiosity is your friend.
Great sellers are naturally curious and they can't help but ask questions to learn more about how they can help. Great sales managers look for evidence of this curiosity when recruiting and selecting new sellers because they know that, driven by curiosity, their salespeople will uncover a treasure trove of information. Armed with that information, sales professionals are free to design solutions and share ideas that will help their clients earn a strong return on their investment.
Tell Me More
Sales managers, this part is for you. When you’re out in the field with your salespeople, pay attention to how often they say "Tell me more." Those three words, when used correctly, are powerful. Tell me more works well because it doesn’t say, "Hey, look at me! I don't understand what you are talking about." Instead it says, "Wow, that’s interesting and I would like to know more about it." Teach your sellers to use tell me more to show they’re paying attention, believe what they’re hearing is important, and want to learn more.
Important note: Remember that, as a sales manager, your job is to develop your people. So don’t jump in and save the day! I encourage you to work with your salespeople before the meeting as they prepare the questions they want to ask and the topics they will want to cover. Unleash their buried curiosity by helping them to prepare in advance. I assure you you’ll develop better salespeople while, at the same time, securing better customers and better deals.
While it might be true that curiosity killed the cat, in the world of sales, curiosity saves the sales rep.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published April 9, 2013 and has been updated.