The Ultimate Question We're Not Asking

In Fred Reichheld’s ground breaking book ‘The Ultimate Question’ he writes about how acting on the insights you receive from asking your customers that one ultimate question - “How likely is it that you would recommend us to a friend or colleague?” and ranking their responses on a 0-10 scale can drive extraordinary financial and competitive results.

I am a huge fan of Fred’s work and it occurred to me in a moment of quiet contemplation one day that despite the fact that asking questions is the sales persons raison d’être, could it be that there’s one ultimate question we’re not asking? And by ‘…we’re not asking’ I’m referring to the sales profession as a whole.

Let me apologise in advance to those true sales professionals out there, you've figured out this ultimate question and answered it long ago or you wouldn't be enjoying the stellar career’s you are today. The fact that you stand out from the crowd as shining examples of selling the way it should be help’s to make my point. So many in sales, individuals and organisations alike, haven’t found the answer, and fewer still even realise there’s a question to be asked.

The sad reality is that of the hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, small business owners, corporate salespeople or anyone who finds themselves fulfilling any type of sales function, most are having a hard time with selling. And you know what so are buyers, customers, clients, prospects regardless of the term you use. Whatever side of the table you’re sitting on, buyer or seller, we exist more as combatants than as collaborators much of the time.

Could it be that this ego centric ‘House of Cards’ like battle between the buyers and sellers of the world all comes down to this one pesky question we refuse to ask or is it refuse to answer? Or is it that we’re fully aware of the question but we just don’t like the answer so we pretend it’s not there gnawing away at our collective conscience.

I’m nearly there so just a few more words to contextualise before the big reveal. I think it’s fair to say that just about everyone in a sales role would have been exposed to some form of sales training, either through reading books, attending seminars or via a more formal corporate program. Let’s refer to this type of learning as the ‘How to sell’, where all you have to do (so the idea goes) is thoroughly learn and carefully practice everything in the sales person’s bag of tricks and you too will become a sales success! At least that’s the theory.

So although the How of selling is a tried and tested path, the trust deficit between buyers and sellers continues as does the adversarial nature of these relationships. The How therefore doesn't seem to be steering us in the right direction does it. What gets far less if any attention at all is the much more important question of –Why?

So here we are back at where we started with that ultimate question we’re not asking, here it is -“Why do we sell?” If you’re jumping to the comment box below with an answer that has anything to do with you, your company or the very real financial necessities of employees and companies of course I get that. The economy depends on products and services being bought and sold. I’m not posing this question in a literal sense. By asking Why I’m questioning things like purpose, cause and belief.

Simon Sinek captures the essence of this really well in his book Start with Why, where he says:

"It doesn't matter What you do, it matters Why you do it."

So with that in mind - Why are you selling? Why is your organisation selling? And most importantly Why should your customers care?

Ian J Lowe is the CEO of Go-Givers Australia, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation offering a unique culture-defining philosophy and framework that makes giving value the cornerstone of a refreshingly open and authentic approach to selling.

Image Credit: House Of Cards, Netflix 2013