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Sales Matters, Inc. | Raleigh, NC | 919-615-2136

Have you ever had a qualified prospect pick your brain for information – and then turn around and buy from the competition?

Most salespeople have had this frustrating experience. It’s a function of following the buyer’s process (which of course favors the purchaser) rather than following a clear professional selling process that levels the playing field. All too often, we lose a customer to the competition because we decide to share loads of information before we’ve identified the prospective buyer’s emotional motivations. We don’t uncover the pain the prospect is trying to eliminate.

Instead of showering the prospect with product information, we should ask questions that will clarify whether there’s an emotional gap between where the prospect is and where the prospect wants to be, or the prospects pain. Then we should figure out whether we can fill that gap.


Last weekend, Jim went to a “big box” appliance store. Jim had absolutely no intention of buying a wide screen television from this store. He went into the store with the goal of gathering information so he could buy a television for a cheaper price online. He walked over to the television department and asked the woman at the counter, Juanita, a few questions about widescreen TVs.

What do you think Juanita did?

Here’s a big hint: She was following the buyer’s system.

Juanita answered Jim’s questions. And then some. She didn't do anything to try to identify the reasons behind Jim’s desire to learn more about widescreen televisions. She wasn't interested in learning about the emotional gap between where Jim was and where he wanted to go. All she was interested in doing was reciting features and benefits.

So Juanita recited three or four brochures’ worth of product information at Jim, while Jim scribbled down notes. She didn't ask a single probing question. She didn't ask whether Jim had been to the store before, or why he had decided to come in today. She didn't even ask whether Jim currently had a television. She went right from "Can I help you?" to belching out product specifications.

We call what Juanita did "spilling your candy in the lobby." Think about how frustrating it would be to go to the movie theater, pay for your ticket, buy your drinks and popcorn and candy, and then spill all your refreshments on the lobby floor before you even had a chance to sit down and begin watching the film. That's what Juanita did. She launched into features and benefits, having uncovered no reasons why Jim was looking at tv’s in the first place.

Had she engaged with Jim by asking just a few simple questions, she could have learned that he was buying a widescreen television for a high-traffic area of his bar and grill. She could have learned that Jim’s customers frequently used (and abused) the TV set, and that his last three units had all been handled so roughly by tipsy sports fans that he’d had to replace them.

Jim was sick and tired of replacing television sets. That was his pain. He was focused on price, but he could very easily have become a prime candidate for an extended service plan, which would have been far less expensive than buying a new set every six months or so.

Juanita never knew that, so she never brought it up. As a result, she gave Jim lots of free consulting, watched him take plenty of notes, and lost the sale to an online retailer that offered no service plan at all.


Juanita’s behavior was probably the result of an attempt to establish credibility and display her expertise. She may have satisfied her own desire to look and sound like an expert, but she didn’t get the sale.

Juanita deserved to lose that sale. Every time we pass up an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with the prospect about where the he wants to go and what's keeping him from getting there, we deserve to lose, too. It’s our professional obligation, once we’ve engaged with a prospect, to start that discussion and follow it through to its conclusion.

Don’t spill your candy in the lobby! Instead, ask questions that uncover your prospect’s pain. Your closing ratio will thank you.

Copyright Sandler Training

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