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It's been a long time since I had written any new material.  So here it is now!


As the slowdown in the world economy continues, it may be harder now to discover significant problems or challenges that customers could be facing.  Customers may also be putting off investments to solve their problems until the economy becomes better.


As a first step, we could explore how we can still make the sale when the customer does NOT have a significant problem or challenge that they need to resolve immediately.


Hence, this month's topics:

  1. How to Sell to Customers when They Don’t Really have an Obvious Need?; and

  2. How to Structure Your Questioning Strategy

This issue's main article is on "How to Sell to Customers when They Don’t Really have an Obvious Need?, and we explore what are some effective conversations that you can have to uncover hidden needs and insights.


In brief:

  • What would be your Plan B if customers don't have a burning problem or challenge that they need to resolve;

  • How to explore future possibilities and position yourself as a suitable alternative supplier;

  • Conducting deeper conversations with customers by harnessing your business acumen.   Read on... ...

To read the rest of this newsletter, pls. click here ( 

How to Sell to Customers when They Don’t Really have an Obvious Need?

by c.j. Ng


Recently, I was talking to a client who used to train their sales people using SPIN Selling, but is now looking at alternative forms of sales training. Initially, I thought that they could be looking for sales training that they don’t need to pay for expensive licensing fees as a means of reducing costs. However, this was not the case, as they have deeper needs that needed to be addressed.


For the uninitiated, SPIN stands for:

  • Situation,

  • Problem,

  • Implications

  • Needs-Payoff

Typically, trainees are trained to ask questions to find out

  • What are the customers’ problems,

  • What are the implications if the problems are not resolved; and

  • What are some of the “pay-offs” or benefits if those problems are resolved

These all sound very logical, BUT what this client’s sales people found is a slightly different scenario. Their customers don’t really have a problem that needs to be resolved. In fact, their customers are quite happy and satisfied with their current suppliers, and there’s no existing impetuous need to change.


Looking back at my many other clients and sales trainees, I too observed that in many, if not most cases, sales people don’t really face with customers that face critical issues or problems that need to be resolved. However, that does not mean that they don't have any buying needs. It just means that a different sales approach is needed to discover their hidden needs.


Approaching Customers with No Current Needs


So how do you sell to a customer who does not have obvious and immediate needs? Here are some trains of thoughts that you can explore:

  1. Explore future needs, i.e. are there any potential problems or challenges that the customer would like to avoid or resolve?

  2. Being the alternative supplier, i.e. if your products or services are not really key differentiators, then perhaps the customer may still want to explore having a back-up or alternative supplier

  3. Sharpening your business acumen, where you can provide insights and be a trusted advisor to your customers


Exploring Future Needs


If you were to start your sales conversation by diving into what are some of the challenges the customer would like to resolve, then you may be in for a bad surprise. Not only do customers are less likely to have a serious problem that require an external resource to resolve, even IF they do have a problem, they may not want to share with you if they don’t trust you enough.


Hence, it may make sense to drive the conversation towards potential needs, by starting with what they might be planning in the future.

Some sample questions could be:

  • “How is business?  How will business be in the next 1-2 years?”  

  • “What are some key initiatives the company will be implementing this year?”  

  • “What are some new products that you will be launching in the near future?”

While this customer may not be able to help you achieve your sales targets in the short term, you may actually be on course to develop some new businesses which you otherwise might have missed.


Developing Being a Slightly Better Alternative

Sometimes, you don't’ need to even prove to the customer that you can bring drastic savings or improvements in performances.  Sometimes you don’t even need to have a better product.  In fact, as much as 48% of the best sales proposals lose the deal.


There could be times when you just need to be a slightly more attentive and better supplier.  Here are the reasons why:

  • Customers need to have alternative suppliers to have better bargaining power with their existing suppliers;

  • Customers may want to have alternative sources of supply, in case the current supplier cannot deliver the right quantities on time;

  • Customers may want an alternative supplier with a shorter or more predictable lead time;

  • Customers may want better tech support, for current and potential future needs; etc.

In other words, customers may buy from you NOT because your products and services really made a huge difference, BUT because they are looking for reliable alternative suppliers.


The question to sales people is: are you able to position yourself to be that SUITABLE alternative?

Sharpen Your Business Acumen

Much has been discussed about how sales people should be trusted advisor to customers, and qualities such as having integrity has been widely preached.


However, customers will not trust your advice if you have no idea how you can help suggest ideas that might improve their business performance.


To do so, you will need to:

  • Develop your business acumen about what are the key performance drivers of your customer’s business;

  • Find out ways how to link some of those key performance drivers with the products and services you provide;

  • Make sure you also have the business acumen that you will still make some profits if the customer buys your proposal

Key business drivers can be helping the customer:

  • Eliminate down-time by having guaranteed supplies of inventory;

  • Reduce down-time by having less maintenance needs;

  • Reduce wastages by having better stability;

  • Reduce inventory costs because your products are smaller and take up less space; etc.

Still not convinced?  According to research, as much as 39% of customers choose their suppliers based on the sales person’s effectiveness.


Customers don’t buy from your company.  They buy from you to get your company’s products and services.  That is the reason why when some things didn’t work out as planned, they will call your mobile phone instead of customer service or anyone else.


Customers may not have a big, current problem or challenge that they need to solve now, BUT some of them may want to have a trusted advisor who can help them avoid problems or achieve goals in the near future.


Need help in selling to customers when they don't really have a huge problem to solve? Simply e-mail or call +86-21-6219 0021 or WeChat: cydj001 and arrange to have a deeper discussion.

Power Breakfast Hour: 20 Oct 2016

How to Sell to Customers when They Don’t Really have an Obvious Need?

  • How to discover hidden and potential needs when customers don't have immediate problems or challenges to resolve;

  • How to explore future possibilities and position yourself as a suitable alternative supplier;

  • How to conduct deeper conversations with customers by harnessing your business acumen.   Read on... ...

VENUE: Crowne Plaza Shanghai • 400 Panyu Road (near Fahuazhen Road) • 上海银星皇冠酒店 • 番禺路 400 号 (靠法华镇路)


DATE: Thursday, 20 Oct 2016

TIME: 08:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.




To make this a more conducive discussion, we are expecting a small group of about 15 people only, so please register early to avoid disappointments. Please e-mail your registrations too


Pls. check out our web sites and for more inspiration.

Tips for Questioning Techniques:
How to Structure Your Questioning Strategy


by c.j. Ng


If you have been attending different sales trainings, you might have noticed the common themes with regards to how sales people should structure their questioning strategies.  These include:

  • Use more "open questions" and less "close questions";

  • Start from the general situation before you proceed to specific and sensitive issues;

  • At some point of time, ask the customers "what will happen if nothing is done", or "what will happen if you don't get to fulfil your needs" etc.


However, by asking sales people to think about what questions to ask customers is akin to putting the cart in front of the horse.  After all, the purpose of asking customers questions is to find out more information and insights about the customer.

Hence, a better way to start strategising your questions would be:

  1. Make a list of information or insights you would like to obtain from your customer;

  2. Draft the questions that you think is the most likely to get the customer volunteer the information to you (Try asking "what's your problem" and see the response.  No, this is NOT the way to find out if the customer really has a problem!);

  3. Prioritise your questions such that you start with the less sensitive and work your way to the more sensitive ones;

  4. Give a good and clear  Purposeful Opening Statement as to why you are going to ask questions;

  5. Based on the answers and responses you get from your customer, probe in deeper to get further insights

In addition to "open" and "close" questions, sales people could also use questioning techniques that are already well-established in the world of coaching, such as:

  • Clarifying questions: "Which is more important to you, price or quality?"

  • Reframing questions: "If budget is not an issue, what will be your ideal solution?"

  • Combination or Cascading questions: "What would be a key priority?  What else?  Why would you say so?"

In any case, sales people will still have to start with "what would I like to find out about the customer" and work backwards with better and a more complete set of questioning tools to get customers to give forthright answers.

To find out how to strategise your questioning strategies, be that for sales, hiring or performance reviews, you can e-mail or call +86-21-6219 0021 or WeChat: cydj001

Directions Management Consulting


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