How Columbo Can Teach us to Sell

Maybe I am dating myself. Columbo was an excellent T.V. detective series in the 1980's; He asked the most critical questions of a suspect just before leaving a room. These questions revealed the essential mysteries surrounding the crime. We can learn a lot from Columbo.


What kind of questions do you ask in the sales process? Do you have a plan before you meet? What do you need to know and why? Ask yourself why should the prospect see me? What value do I bring? What do I want to happen next? These three simple questions will help advance the sale and keep you on the right track.


How are you building rapport? People still do business with people they know like and trust. This has not changed and is probably more important than ever before. The fast-moving, impersonal world we live in has created a desire for human connections. The negative news cycle has eroded our sense of trust and feeling of personal safety. If you master the art of establishing rapport and trust you have laid the bedrock for a successful sale. What questions will you ask to build trust and rapport? Be your true self and focus your attention on the prospect and their world. Research to have an understanding before you meet about their challenges, opportunities and proud moments. Look at the mission statement on their website, do your values, and theirs align?


Want different results? Then do something different. How well do you know the business? Did you S.W.O.T. them? What are the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats in their business? How do they buy and why? This is your moment to be Columbo and ask great questions. Not the same questions every other sales rep is asking. Be different and ask transformational questions, not just transactional ones. A transformational question is one they have actually to think about. You will know when you have asked this type of question from the prospect's response. You will hear them say, "now that's a great question," or "I've never thought of it that way." The person will sometimes look up and to the right, an indication they have to think about the answer. You want to limit these questions to 2-3 in any one encounter. If you do this one thing alone, it will separate you from 90% of your competition.

Issues and Implications

If the prospect doesn't have a problem to solve, they probably don't need you. What challenges do you address? How are they coping with this problem today? What are the implications of this problem? Who is impacted? What if they do nothing? What is the net effect of gain if they solve the problem? Loss if they don't? What toll or gain will this have over time? This is smart selling. Some salespeople don't like to ask these kind of questions. By nature, we try to stay in the positive. Asking these questions helps the prospect recognize and define value. You may not have any value to offer. Not every opportunity is a future client, but if you have value, it will surface.


What solution have you developed to solve the problem? Have you confirmed your answer is the right one? Have you been asking questions to confirm understanding from the beginning? One of the biggest mistakes you can make is a misalignment in communications with the prospect. The key to sales is effective communication. Make sure what you thought you heard is actually what you heard. Just because the last client needed XYZ doesn't mean the next one will find value there. Never assume- it makes an a__ out of you and me.


If you have asked questions to confirm understanding throughout the sales process, this is a non-event. The best sales professionals ask enough questions to build excitement and the clients close themselves. There is no rain dance, magic words or phrases that close sales. Just a great job in establishing trust, performing discovery, confirming for understanding and offering defined value. Nothing sleazy, tactical or unethical. You are doing the best job possible and practicing the technique of smart selling.

In today's economy the buyer has information overload; they are overwhelmed with choices. You are 2 to 4 times more important than your product or service. It is your expertise the client is buying. Ask great questions and show them your Columbo style of uncovering needs and defining value to help them meet their goals.

Luck can be found at the intersection of hard work and perseverance.

Be Great and Prosper-


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