Every customer has a story to tell – and the best salespeople know why it pays to listen carefully…

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)… and she even forgot how to ask good questions.


But if you’re feeling curious too, here’s a very good question: have you tapped into Malcolm Gladwell’s Masterclass yet?


I am constantly on the lookout for ways to bring new insight, tools and tips on maximising sales conversations into our sales communities.  And I’m finding a lot of inspiration in Gladwell’s Storytelling masterclass. Essentially it’s a conversation about writing, but it has superb analogies with how to have great sales conversations.


When Malcolm Gladwell researches a book, he has to learn what nobody knows – and that means not looking where everyone else does.


This is exactly the same in a sales situation.

Whether you are trying to differentiate yourself in a customer’s eyes; trying to demonstrate your value; trying to connect and uncover opportunities with your customer, you need to ask questions beyond the expected.

You need to be curious.


And you need to follow your curiosity, leaving your sales targets at the door in those first early conversations.


Gladwell describes it perfectly.  He says if you use Google as your main research channel, Google just confirms the direction that you are already on; it may even be skewed because you have paid ads that sit at the top.


But Gladwell points out that libraries group books in topics, so when you look around the book you want to read, the book next to it will be a similar and the one next to that one, a little bit less similar.


A book on the shelf above will still share the same topic, but it takes a completely different approach.


Remember, you can’t know what you don’t know!


This reminds me of the ‘long tail ‘first talked about when Amazon started selling books (you know – people who read this, also ready this).


This was a fundamental piece of Amazon’s success while opening up people to wider book selection and new authors – you were no longer hidden on the shelves because as a reader you perhaps just go for the authors you know or those who have been recommended to you.


Is this the same as sales conversations? 


The long tail of sales conversations is the land of possibilities; of hidden opportunities; of conversations with no fixed path.


You need to be willing to explore areas and ideas with your customer as they come up or are uncovered in conversation.


By being curious – asking questions and genuinely listening to the responses -you will uncover more, fill gaps in your knowledge and identify further questions to ask.


Now, I know that as a salesperson, conversations with customers are fundamentally influenced by your sales target, which lurks at the back of your mind every time you talk to a customer.


Selling is very personal because the outcomes of every conversation directly impact on your world and your ability to pay the bills.


But the rewards of following your curiosity, and continuing to ask those questions can have an impact not only on this opportunity but future revenue opportunities too.


As Francesca Gino highlights in ‘The Business Case for Curiosity’:

“When we demonstrate curiosity about others by asking questions, people like us more and view us as more competent, and the heightened trust makes our relationships more interesting and intimate.

By asking questions, we promote more-meaningful connections and more creative outcomes.”


So curiosity in sales situations is the springboard to becoming a trusted advisor – and we’re all aware of the positive impact that has on sales.


Here’s a little bit of research around trusted advisors from HubSpot

Eighty-two per cent of customers who did not renew their annual contracts with an insurance company either had an antagonistic or transactional relationship with the provider, reports Hubspot


Customers who had a transactional relationship with the representatives at an IT VAR gave the company 14% of their available business on average, but the percentage jumped to 47% if they perceived the VAR’s salespeople to be trusted advisors.


That’s a 33% difference that can be attributed solely to relationship strength.



As Alice might say: “In sales be curious – and curiouser.”




So go on, take one sales conversation, follow your curiosity and see where it takes you!