The Curious Case of Curiosity in Selling

What’s the top, number one, single greatest factor affecting success in sales?

There are often multiple answers to questions like that, because all the prime candidates overlap similar territory. You might argue for a can-do attitude, or customer focus, or a committed team.

Let me make the case for curiosity.

Imagine being in a constant state of heightened curiosity when you are with, doing work for, and thinking about your customers. What would that look like?

The answers fall into two broad categories, I think:

1. If you were curious on your customer’s behalf, you would:

• Notice an awful lot of things about their people, products and customers
• Formulate many hypotheses
• Ask a lot of questions to pursue those hypotheses
• Want to know lots of things on general principle: preferences, history, culture, practices
• Be other-focused

2. And while you were being curious, you would spend less time on:

• Worrying about how to get the sale
• Worrying about how to speed a decision, or close, or qualify a lead
• Trying to portray yourself in ways you assume will influence the customer

Now here’s the punch line. Most approaches to selling tell you to ask a lot of questions—basically like the first category.

But they also tell you to worry about that second category. In fact, they say the sole purpose of all questions is to get the sale. Most sales approaches say you absolutely should worry about getting the sale, speeding a decision, qualifying, etc. Which kills curiosity.

Curiosity says, to hell with that. Curiosity says, the purpose of questions is to find out what could be: what could be better, what the right thing is, what the customer should do.

The paradox, of course, is that curiosity-driven selling just plain works better. It works better because the questions are grounded in the customer’s world, not the sales person’s needs.

The linear, process-driven, metrics-based approach to selling that has become so prevalent has many virtues, but one gigantic, glaring defect: By trying to maximize the sale, it has devalued the customer—thereby reducing sales effectiveness (insert ironic music here).

Curiosity may have killed some cat once upon a time; but it serves salespeople well. Curiosity isn’t a sales tactic. Done right, sales are a natural byproduct of being curious.  There’s something very simple and right about that.