Call Me the Scheherazade of Curiosity, Part 1: Sales


I’ve been reading a lot of articles on curiosity lately in a bid to catch up with my colleagues at Leadership & Co. The scholarly work is persuasive – cultivating curiosity in your workforce leads to increased innovation, more creative problem-solving, more effective collaboration, more thorough investigation, and increased influence.

But I’ve got stories. Luckily, not the 1,001 that my clickbaity title might have led you to believe. I’ve got 2 stories about how curiosity can have a profound and immediate impact on the work we do in sales, recruiting, and finance. But to keep you curious, I’m only going to share one today – stay tuned for the other in the coming weeks!

One of my clients is a SaaS (software as a service) company. Its sales staff has varying levels of experience, so to help the newbies get a faster start, my client asked me to build an account management playbook, with a detailed schedule of when and how often reps should contact customers (including a schedule for when and what to prep for those contacts), along with e-mail templates, talking points, and scripts.

One of the things that the reps requested multiple times was scripting for the top ten most frequent objections from customers deciding whether to renew. On the surface, this sounds like it would be a perfect addition to the playbook, right? Wrong.

Aside from stranding sales reps who hear objections #11 and #12 with no planned script, for companies like my client that depend on revenue from customers who renew business, growth comes from long-term relationships with customers. SaaS companies don’t want a single sale; they need to continue to sell to their customers year after year after year.

Parroting back a script to customers who have objections to renewing doesn’t feed a long-term relationship. Instead, that approach treats customers as opponents who have to be beaten in a debate, and most people prefer not to pay to stay enemies.

The head of sales agreed with me, saying “I want the front-line reps on my team to act like detectives. I want them to find out what’s important to our customers and what business problems our product solves for them.”

This is precisely why curiosity matters. Detectives don’t settle for surface or simple explanations. Their curiosity runs deep and makes them relentless in the pursuit of an answer. And so it goes with the most effective sales professionals. Planning an initial question to get a customer conversation going is clearly scriptable. But asking the follow up questions that probe further and ultimately surface the problem a customer needs us to solve cannot be scripted. Sales reps that are most adept at these types of sales conversations are those who are deeply curious about their customers—their past experiences, current challenges, and future plans.

So instead of a series of scripts in the playbook, I added a checklist of information the reps needed to find out from each of their customers and some sample questions to get them started. I supplemented this with a one-hour session on why these conversations are important and a couple of practice sessions using role play.

The reps who implemented the playbook with the guidance of their manager took their renewal rate from 45% to an impressive 80%, killing their quotas and nearly doubling the revenue they brought in.

We live in an age when having the most information and knowing what to do with it is a competitive differentiator. If your workforce is not yet made up of robots, and your customers don’t actively share the information you need in a public forum, the only way to get that crucial information is by cultivating a curious mindset, and channeling it into productive questioning. For my client in sales, investing in curiosity has returned more effective reps and more revenue.

Next week, I’ll share a story about the impact of curiosity in recruiting. In the meantime, if you have any questions or a story to share about the impact of curiosity that you’ve observed, I’d love to hear it!

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