Skip to main content Navigation

Sales Strategy

Don’t Be A Mind Reader |  July 30, 2015 (0 comments)


Boston, MA—I am not a mind-reader. I have never been a mind-reader and I am fairly certain that if you gave me the option of becoming a mind-reader, I would politely decline your offer. You might give me a multitude of reasons as to why someone would want to become a mind-reader but I am quite sure (of course, not being a mind-reader, I can’t be absolutely sure) that I would still decline your offer.

Can you imagine how bad it might feel if, upon meeting someone, you were to discover that you reminded them of a teacher or former boss with whom they had a very stressful relationship? What if you brought back memories of a particularly harrowing personal relationship with a former boyfriend or girlfriend? Do I need to carry that load? I think not.

How would you feel if, immediately upon sitting down for an interview, you discovered that the interviewer has already concluded that there is no way in a month of Sundays that she is hiring you for the position? According to Alexander Todorov and Janine Willis at Princeton, we form biases about how we feel about people in one-tenth of one second. Thank you very much, but I’ll pass on knowing that stuff.

I am happy to not be able to read your mind, but I reserve the right to closely observe your body language and to listen very intently to what you are saying so that I can understand what is going on—and I want my salespeople to do the same thing.

I want him or her to take charge and to communicate with me in a clear, confident and assertive manner. I don’t want there to be any attempt to read my mind, just ask me good probing, open-ended questions and listen--really listen--to what I am telling you. I may not be able to articulate with absolute clarity what my needs are, but I’m certain that I’ll give you a few clues and, through your deductive-reasoning skills and your drive, you ought to be able to help me figure out what my needs are.

Peter Smith

There’s a small boutique hotel in New York where I stay on a regular basis. Every single time I walk into the lobby, I am greeted with a warm smile from the person behind the check-in desk, and they always ask me the same question, “How can I help you?”

It’s hard to get mad at them for asking, as they genuinely look happy to see me, but let’s think about this. Here’s a clue: I am walking into your hotel pulling my luggage behind me.  So how DO you think you can help me? How about making a reasonable deduction and going with “He must be checking in!”

I know that assumptions are dangerous - and I might actually be coming into your hotel looking for directions - but if you were to play the odds, and conclude that I did want to check in to the hotel, and if you were to greet me with that welcoming smile and say, “Welcome back, sir, it’s nice to see you again!” what could possibly go wrong?

As a salesperson, take charge in an assertive and respectful manner. I really don’t want to go to the barber to debate whether I need a haircut, and I certainly don’t want to go to the doctor to diagnose my own ailment. I walked into your place of business and I’d like you to do what you do well and take care of my needs.

Asking open-ended questions such as “Tell me about some of the things you have bought for her in the past?” can be very effective. How about, “How would you describe her personal style?” “What are her favorite colors?”

Whatever you do, please do not product-dump on me. Don’t start throwing stuff at the wall in the hope that something will stick; that doesn’t help me at all.  Please don’t use me as a sounding board to demonstrate your amazing product knowledge. I’ll ask you for product details if it is important, but please don’t consume my precious time with details that are irrelevant to me.

Take charge. Tell me that you will be delighted to take care of my needs and demonstrate in your words, your demeanor and your actions that you respect my time and that you will help to satisfy my needs. Repeat some of the key points back to me so that I know you are listening and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when needed.

I am not a mind-reader and I don’t expect you to be one either. There’s a reason that I walked into your place of business and, like my friends in the hotel in New York, go ahead and make the assumption that I am there to do business with you. Welcome me, engage me, ask me great questions and listen to me and, when you are confident that we have arrived at a good solution, go ahead and ask me for the sale.

Peter Smith, the author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions To Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent more than 30 years building sales-teams at retail and at wholesale. A graduate of Boston College and the Harvard Key- Executive Program, Peter has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference. He is also a regular columnist for National Jeweler and the Centurion Sales Newsletter, where he writes about sales, personnel and management issues pertaining to Independent Retail Jewelers. Smith has previously worked with companies such as Tiffany & Co., Montblanc and Hearts On Fire and he was recently appointed as president of Vibhor Gems.

Smith’s Hiring Squirrels is available in print or Kindle digital edition on 

Top image:

Share This:

Leave a Comment:

Human Check