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First, Let Your Customer Finish Their Sentence, Then Ask Three Questions

by David Brock on June 25th, 2009
Yesterday, I had a discussion with “Mark.” Mark is one of the best sales/business development professionals I have ever met. In the market segments in which he sells, he is truly an expert. He’s spent many years in understanding the industry, the players, the key issues facing everyone in the value delivery chain. Customers seek and respect Mark’s opinion. He’s helped customers achieve great things with his company’s solutions.

Coupled with that, Mark has a very high level of enthusiasm and energy—it’s infectious. Meeting with Mark, or seeing customers with him is always interesting. It’s often hard to keep up with the ideas.

Imagine my surprise when Mark asked me for some advice today. While he is the highest performer in his company, he was having some challenges with closing deals. He said he was getting sales to a certain point and then they seem to stall. We were talking about what was going wrong.

Fortunately, I had been on some calls with Mark. I’ve seen how he interacted with customers. I’ve also seen Mark in conversations with his peers in his company and we had had many conversations between ourselves.

Mark has a problem—it’s a problem I’ve seen many bright, high energy, and high performing sales professionals have. I noticed that Mark rarely lets anyone complete their thoughts. Mark’s mind is racing ahead of the conversation. Before the customer has had a chance to state their issues, Mark knows the answer and is presenting a solution. He’s eager to solve the issue, his enthusiasm and energy causes him to interrupt and to start presenting a solution.

Since Mark is truly an expert in the industry, more often than not, he is focusing on the right issue and presenting a powerful solution. However, this creates a real problem — one the Mark is totally unconscious about.

The customer never gets to tell their story, the customer never really feels that she is being heard. Mark has not given them the chance to explain their issues.

The problem gets worse. A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with Mark and one of his customers. A few sentences into the discussion, Mark could read where things were going and jumped in to talk about the issues, their impact on the customer and their customers and potential solutions to resolve the issues. He wasn’t pitching, but speaking from his expertise and experience — an in many senses was very credible.

The problem, however, was that wasn’t the issue that was bothering the customer. By interrupting the customer, Mark had cut off the chance to hear the real issues that were bothering the customer and address those. While Mark eventually discovered this and corrected it, it took some time. Fortunately the customer was generous and forgiving, giving Mark the opportunity to explore the real issues.

I see the same scenario too many times, with some of the best, most knowledgeable and experienced sales people.

Going back to Mark’s and my discussion. He asked me what to do. I started to tell him, then he jumped in……

After I stopped the discussion, I said: “Mark, here is your new mantra: ‘Let the customer complete their sentence or thought. Never, never, under any circumstances interrupt her. Then, before you respond to the customer, ask her three questions. If you do this, you will see profound changes in your effectiveness.'”

Mark paused and thought about it. He made a few comments, stopped himself and said he was being defensive. We started discussing it. Somethings we concluded:

    • Everyone wants to be heard–they want the chance to express their views and know
      they are being listened to. They want the chance to tell their story—and they
      need to tell their story to someone who is listening.
    • As smart as we are, until we have heard the customer’s view, until it comes from their mouths, we are just assuming—and we know what assumptions make us.
      If we give the customer a chance to complete their thoughts, we will learn something new.
    • If we ask the customer three questions before responding, the quality of both our listening and our knowledge increases exponentially. We can then respond more
      appropriately and have an engaged customer.

I could tell Mark took it to heart. He wrote it down on the front cover of his notebook. He wanted to see it before each call with a customer.

Before we concluded, Mark asked me, “What are the three questions I should ask?” I have a specific answer for this, but I’d like your ideas and views—so please comment.

For any of you who are very curious—email me, I’ll give you the three key questions you might ask in these situations. Just send a request to me at

Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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  1. Brett permalink

    Great Topic…I find myself trying to solve people's problems before they can explain what their concern actually is. Letting people speak their minds can help you from a business stand point and also with personal relationships.
    After reading this I had a lunch with a customer of mine. While she was talking and brought up a topic that I had a great solution for, I paused, remembered this discussion…waited for her to finish, and then expressed my point of view.

  2. Dave Brock's Blog permalink

    Brett, thanks for the great comment. Did pausing with your customer help? Did you better understand what she was seeking to achieve and how you could help her?

    Thanks for commenting. Regards, Dave

  3. Luis permalink


    Great post. I am curious about the three questions. Can you tell me ?


  4. Dave, great post. I like the story element of it. Well written.

    Jerry Colona gave me this advice and I’ve never forgotten it. W.A.I.T (Why Am I Talking?)

    It forces me to really challenge my self on why I’m doing the talking.

    Well done Dave.

  5. Outstanding post David!

    Too many experienced sales people jump in with their perspective before taking the time to fully listen to their prospect. The longer someone sells a particular product or service, I think the more they are afflicted by this.


  6. Kobi Anderson permalink

    Dave, this is excellent. I’ve been told this in sales courses before, but it is good to be reminded of solid basic skills. Silence is one of the most powerful selling tools.

    • Thanks Kobi! I’m sending the link for the 3 Questions. Hope to see you commenting frequently. Regards, Dave

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