Paul Evans, market manager, BMC, Texas

Have you ever bought anything and after the purchase thought to yourself, “Man, that salesman really understood what I wanted and got me exactly what I needed?” More likely, you are saying to yourself, “No, not really--All the salesman wanted was the sale and he couldn’t care less about me or really what I wanted.” So why don’t you use that thought process when you as a professional salesman are working with a customer on a sales call?

A sales trainer named Bob Hafer once told me to “Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.” What Bob meant was to imagine the customer’s point of view—what that person sees and, more importantly, hears, when you meet. I have written many articles and a book on listening. I still think today that listening is the most powerful tool a salesman can use to make a sale. But I also think that what I learned from putting myself in the customer’s shoes is just as important.

By using the customer’s point of view, you can see where they are coming from and--more importantly--where they are going. You will know which direction to take in the sales call and whether you should pursue the call further. Remember what Nancy Worst once wrote: sometimes “NO” is the right answer. That’s particularly true if you don’t know what the customer’s point of view is.

Some folks call this being the devil’s advocate. People use this typically to show you the bad side to an idea. But I don’t want you to see the bad side;  I want you to see the customer’s side of an issue. Here’s an example.

Every day we would get a purchase order from a customer. We then would then have to take that purchase order and change it to the SKU that was in our system and then check that customer’s software system and see if there were any change orders after the date of the PO, and so on. After doing this for several years, we went to the customer and said “We need to sit down and make this easier for us to do business with you.”

When we met with the customer, while discussing what it took for us to enter a house package of material, the talk seemed to get more and more confusing to the customer. I could see that person was drifting away from the conversation. Then I remembered what Bob had said about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. So I stopped and asked : “Instead of me getting you to change anything that you are doing, how can I service you better and get more business from you?”

He then stopped drifting and looked right at me and said, “You know, I have never really had anyone ask me how I wanted to be serviced or how I viewed a situation.” He really couldn’t answer, so I helped him by asking: “How do you see doing business with us: Is it difficult or easy?” As the conversation continued, we both concluded we had the same issue, only from different sides of the equation. We also came up with an idea on how to overcome the obstacle.

We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to fix our issue without seeing things from the customer’s point of view. By asking a few questions and being honest with the customer about what is working or not, we came up with a Win-Win solution to the problem. By seeing his side, we solved our problem. But more important, we solved a problem for him, which in turn made us a partner to his company and not just another supplier.

After that, the customer was much easier to deal with on the PO side and we have gained much more business because we are easier to work with for him.

Next  time you see yourself at an impasse with a customer, look back at yourself from his point of view. Be careful, though: You might not like what you see. On the other hand, you might just get a better customer experience for it.