A blog post over on the HBR last month on the worst question a salesperson can ask provides a great gauge that you can use to determine the quality of the salesperson selling to you.
If the salesperson starts out by asking what’s keeping you up at night, you know you didn’t get the best your vendor has to offer. Why?
As the article explains, you don’t always know what you want. Just because you know the symptoms of the problem you are experiencing, you don’t necessarily know what the problem is. Just ask a doctor. Fatigue (which we’re all facing being overworked and underpaid in this challenging economy) could be a result of post-viral fatigue, POTS, mononucleosis, epstein-barr, sturgeons, sleep disorders, heart disease, adrenal exhaustion, anaemia, cancer, depression, and diabetes just to name a dozen possible causes.
The same holds true in business. Chances are you need a technology solution to streamline something, but it may not always be the obvious solution. For example, you’re having trouble getting your supplier’s invoices turned around within the discount window. Maybe you need an e-invoicing solution, but maybe you need a better inventory management solution. For example, if Finance will not pay an invoice until it can verify all of the goods are received and in inventory, that a goods receipt has been generated, and there are no goods in need of immediate return, then, if your inventory system requires manual data entry of each item in a slow and laborious process, that’s a problem — especially if your supplier is equipping your palettes with RFID chips. In this case you need an inventory management system that allows automated addition of goods to working inventory once ( a ) the line-item invoice has been received, ( b ) the RFID chip has been scanned and ( c ) a warehouse worker has verified that the containers are in your possession. If you’re not aware of Finance’s policies and not aware that it takes the warehouse a minimum of two weeks to complete the requirements because of the process required and constant backlog, you’ll never know you need a newer inventory management system and might get suckered into buying a new invoice management system that won’t help in the least.
As the blog post points out, you want a salesperson who is a Challenger who can identify, and reveal, potential problems, and solutions, that you don’t even see. That way you can explore all potential sources of a problem until you identify what the real problem is. Then you can select the right solution — which is one that maximizes the overall value you receive. Not before. So if a salesperson starts out by asking “what’s keeping you out at night”, show them the door before, as the authors note, you are robbed of an hour of your life.