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10 Essentials: Knowing How to Help vs. Being Open to Exploring Possibilities

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
January 16, 2010

There are far too many skills and attributes that a salesperson must possess in order to succeed to limit them to 10 essentials. This is more in a line of posts that discuss what salespeople are told as conventional wisdom and the opposite of that belief, which is always just as true and often more valuable.

Knowing How To Help

Great salespeople know how to help their prospects. Their experience allows them to walk into a prospect’s office and know how to help them within minutes. In many cases, the salesperson is a subject-matter expert acting in a consultative role. Their job is to know how to help their prospects and clients achieve better results and outcomes, and their prospects and clients rely on their ability.

Many deals are lost because of poor selling skills. But deals are also lost because salespeople don’t know enough about their business or the prospect’s business to really help them make improvements. A salesperson without the knowledge of how to make improvements will have a difficult time winning deals.

Knowing how isn’t enough without it’s opposite.

Being Open to Exploring Possibilities

Knowing how to help is an essential attribute of great salespeople, but it is not without it’s own problems and risks. The problem manifests itself in the salesperson trying to sell a solution that isn’t exactly right because they have succeeded with same solution in a similar deal in the past. Complex B2B sales are called “complex” for a reason; one size rarely fits all.

Good salespeople are able to possess the knowledge of how to make improvements for their clients based on their experiences, but great salespeople also know how to remain open to exploring other possibilities before they start selling.

Instead of simply waiting for the prospect to stop speaking so that they can present the solution that they walked in the door with, the best salespeople are able to resist this temptation and to truly listen to the prospect. Listening to understand leads to higher level discussions that often bring to light the changes and modifications to your product or service offering that allows you to not only win the deal, but to succeed in helping the client achieve the improved results that they needed.

Listening first opens up the possibilities that might exist for you and for the prospect. Maybe you could change this aspect of something that worked in the past to make it better fit the prospect’s needs. Maybe what you sold isn’t relevant anymore in similar situations. Maybe the client has unique needs that, if served, would lead to the innovations that allow you help even more clients.

Being open to “something else” creates a possibility whereby both parties have the potential to make something better than either had previously had in mind. And your openness as a salesperson can be influential in creating a prospect that is also open to exploring other possibilities.

Great salespeople use this openness to understanding the prospect’s need to create and to sell innovations within their own companies.

Middle managers—especially those that who deal with the outside world, like people in sales—are often the first to realize that what worked before doesn’t quite work anymore; that the rules are changing. They usually don’t have an easy time explaining it to senior management, so senior management in a company is sometimes late to realize the world is changing on them—and the leader is often the last to know.”

Andrew Grove (Intel)

Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Company and Every Career


It is important that you as a salesperson know your business and the prospect’s business well enough to be able to make improvements. You must be well-equipped and well-informed about your product and service offerings and how they create value for your customers. However, that knowledge can’t be allowed to overrule other possibilities.

It is equally important that you also remain open to exploring the possibilities that something different may be needed. This begins with listening with an open mind and with creating the opportunity to explore alternative ideas with your prospects, your clients, and your company (Yes. We are back to selling inside).


1. Do you normally have a solution in mind for the prospect before you even hear their needs? Are you often ready to present, even if you postpone the presentation, after the initial sales call or needs-analysis?

2. What questions would you need to ask to uncover new possibilities?

3. What innovations have you brought back to your company from the field?

4. Are there goods or services that you once sold that no longer seem to be quite right? Are they less effective in the marketplace because they are no longer relevant?

5. Management: Are you listening to your salespeople for the ideas that will spur innovations and the next breakthrough?

For more on increasing your sales effectiveness, subscribe to the RSS Feed for The Sales Blog and my Email Newsletter. Follow me on Twitter, connect to me on LinkedIn, or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your sales organization, check out my coaching and consulting firm, B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, email me, or call me at (614) 212-4279.

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Mindset 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on January 16, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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