June 19 2009

The Consequences Of I Don't Know

“I don’t know”.  “There’s nothing I can do”.  Does anything make you more frustrated as a consumer, than when you have a problem with a company and they respond with “I don’t know” or “There’s nothing I can do”?

I was recently couldn’t check in on one of my Southwest Airlines flights.  I had no idea why.  I asked the attendant at the counter. “I don’t know why” was the reply.  I called the 800 number; again, “I don’t know why” was the reply.  I asked to speak with a supervisor.  Their reply was not only “I don’t know”, it also included “there is nothing I can do”.  I spoke with two supervisors – same answers.  I politely pressed them into giving me a non-published customer care number.  I did finally get someone who found out that I was on the Southwest Airlines terrorist watch list. I’m off now.

How backwards is that? I spend thousands of dollars on Southwest airfare each year, and they’re response is “there’s nothing I can do to solve your problem”?  I was ready to change carriers.

We’ve all been there - companies making it hard for us to give them our money.  Are you kidding me?

As consumers, we hear this all too often - so often that we’ve gotten used to it.  Those two phrases have quietly infiltrated our society and have become an acceptable standard that is slowly ebbing away our standards, our brands, and our profits. We’re so numb to it, we often times don’t even know it has permeated our souls.

If you’re in new home sales, “I don’t know” and “there’s nothing I can do” will put you on your company’s ‘Next To Be Let Go’ list.  

If you don’t know, you can’t help; if you don’t know, you can’t meet the need; if you don’t know, you can’t solve the problem; if you don’t know, you can’t relieve the pain; if you don’t know, you can’t produce.

The essence of selling is meshing solution with need.  The art of selling is getting to the need.  

What is that consumer really looking for?  Why are they there?

Everyone visiting a physical sales office today has already seen your homes online.  They are already familiar with your product.  But why did they take the time, get into their car, spent $10+ in gas, and visit you?

Are they really just looking?  Or are they looking for a home with a garage in a safe neighborhood because where they live now, their midnight blue ’69 Camero keeps getting broken into?

Are they really just looking?  Or are they looking to be as close as possible to their parents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease?

So often a consumer walks into our sales office and the first thing out of our mouth is “let me know if there is anything I can help you with”.  Another popular sales technique is to immediately barrage the consumer with all the fantastic features of the new home and the new home community.  

The goal of each new home sales person is to find out why that consumer is in that particular sales office.  This is called qualifying the consumer.  We’ve been spoiled.  For the past several years, qualifying the consumer meant “can they qualify for the loan?”  That’s not selling.  That’s riding the wave of insane consumer demand.  That may have been acceptable then, but it’s not now.

Consumers today have serious and legitimate needs.  With the housing market being as competitive as it is, we’ve got to find out what they are REALLY looking for - what’s most important to them.  

When a consumer walks into a sales office, how are they qualifying that home?  If you know that, you’re in.

But if we don’t ask, it’s impossible to know.  That’s the bottom line.

The number one trait in a successful sales agent today is asking the right questions in order to get to the core of why that consumer is in that sales office.

Sure, energy is important; sure a professional appearance is important; sure knowledge about the product and services are important.  But if you don’t get to the crux of why that consumer is in that model home, you will not know where they are in the sales cycle and you will not know how best to meet their needs.

As sales people, let’s surgically remove the lackluster standards of “I don’t know” and “there’s nothing I can do” from our lives.  

Consumers want their needs met.  They’re willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for it.  Don’t fool yourself.  They want to tell you.  Be a great sales person and make it easy for them to tell you.  Let’s say to ourselves, “I don’t know now, but I will politely inquire until I do know”.

Tip: a simple opening question.

"So what has you out shopping for a new home?", or even more simply, "Why are you thinking about buying a new home?" (Questions compliments of Jeff Shore)

If they say, “I’m just looking”, like many do, it’s time to get creative and keep asking.  They are not just looking.

Politely inquire until you know.

Jim Adams – CEO
New Homes Directory.com


Posted by: Mike Sipes | June 19 2009 3:39 PM

Jim, as always, this was a great post and spot on.

One sales training class I attended years back taught us to NEVER say "I don't know".  Instead of saying "I don't know", we would respond with "I will find the answer for you".  This shows the customer that you have interest in what they have to say and that you will go out of your way to help them find the answer they are looking for.  "I don't know" ALWAYS leads to a lost opportunity.

And as far as "I don't know" in the home building industry and to give a short little personal story, my wife and I were recently looking at new home models in the area (I won't mention the builder).  Working in the new home industry, I already knew what questions to ask the sales person, and almost every question I asked was followed with a "I don't know".  

In my mind, "I don't know" may as well be "I don't care", and my wife and I turned around and walked out without even looking at the homes.  I felt that if the sales person "didn't care", then we didn't care to spend our money there.

Posted by: Cassandra Grauer | June 22 2009 4:32 PM

Hats off to you, Jim, for being persistent in getting your answer to "I don't know" from SWA.  Now I want to know how the heck you got on that list!  

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