31. Sales Process #4: Restate the Customer’s Problem

After you’ve conducted the Needs Assessment and feel you have a good understanding of your customer, his situation and his needs, you should restate what he has just told you in your own language.

Restating is an extremely powerful technique that is used not just in sales, but in coaching, teaching, therapy and other fields. It is the most direct and powerful way of demonstrating that you’ve actually been listening to the other person—and, by extension, that you respect and care about them.

Restating also gives you the opportunity to make sure you accurately understand the customer’s situation. Since getting even one detail wrong can jeopardize a sale, you need to make sure you get as much right as possible, and especially that you don’t proceed based on erroneous information or assumptions.

It is not a problem, by the way, if you get a detail wrong. If you do, the other person is likely to say, “Well, no, that’s not what I meant.” That’s okay: simply ask him to correct you; and then restate his statement until you get it right.

Here’s how restating works:

Activist: So, what you’re telling me is that you like our candidate’s stand on gay rights and the environment, only you’re not sure whether you could vote for a third-party candidate. Is that right?

“Customer”: Yeah, and I didn’t like that she voted for a property tax increase, either.

Activist: Okay, I’m sorry I missed that. So you’re saying that you would vote for our candidate because you like her stand on gay rights and the environment, only you’re not sure whether you could vote for a third party candidate and you also didn’t like her vote to raise property taxes. Is that right?

“Customer”: Yes.

What the activist needs to do now is to continue to use gentle Socratic questioning to determine what, specifically, he means by “third-party candidate” and “raising property taxes,” and what his objection is. Hopefully, the process of questioning will be enough to help him clarify his thoughts and defuse his objections. It might uncover, for instance, that although he clearly objected to having his property taxes raised, it was only a .25% raise that cost him less than $80 a year, and that the taxes paid for improvements in the community recreational facility that he and his family use regularly. These facts and the “more taxes = better public facilities” frame may defuse that particular objection.

As always, the key to moving the sale along will be not to lecture the customer, but listen to him.

Restating Works Magic

Restating someone’s thoughts and feelings can have amazing, almost magical effects. For instance, when you restate, the customer often corrects himself. In other words, once he hears his thoughts and feelings reflected back at him, he realizes that those are not his thoughts and feelings after all.

“Customer”: Actually, you know, the property tax thing was no big deal. And, you know, come to think of it, I did vote for a third-party candidate a while back.

Believe it or not, something like this frequently happens.

Another magical thing that can happen is that the customer may spontaneously embrace your viewpoint without any further action or persuasion from you:

“Customer” [thinking aloud]: Gee, those are not very good reasons not to vote for someone I otherwise like, are they?

This also happens frequently.

Only after you’ve used restating to demonstrate that you understand your customer’s thoughts and situation, should you begin—very gently—to ask questions and make statements that challenge his views relative to your cause.

The next chapter tells you how.