One of the greatest secrets of success in selling is this one: “Show people what they want most, and they will move heaven and earth to get it.” In Frank Bettger’s wonderful book “How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling”, he gives a great example of how to use this secret. Frank was a life insurance salesman.

One day, he called on Mr.Scott, a successful businessman. He asked the man for five minutes of his time — and promised to leave after five minutes, unless he was asked to stay longer. Scott agreed, but told Frank that he was wasting his time. He explained that he was 63 years old and had long ago quit buying life insurance. His children were all grown up, his wife was well fixed with paid-up life insurance, his business was covered, and his estate plan and will were firmly in place. That would have been enough to send most life insurance salespeople packing — but not Frank Bettger.

Frank had done his homework and knew that Scott was a very generous man who had often given large amounts of money to worthy causes. So he said this: “Mr. Scott, a man who has been as successful as you must surely have some interests outside of your family and your business. Perhaps a hospital, a religious organization, a missionary . . .” Frank listed a few causes that Mr. Scott had supported.

Then he asked his prospect: “Did you ever consider that when you die your support will be withdrawn? Wouldn’t this loss seriously handicap or even stop some splendid work?” Frank then looked at his watch and stopped talking. Mr. Scott immediately invited Frank to continue. Frank asked some more questions and quickly discovered that the cause that mattered most to Mr. Scott was the three missionary teams he supported in South America.

He also learned that one of those teams was made up of Mr. Scott’s son and daughter, and that he was planning to visit them shortly. “Mr. Scott,” Frank said, “When you go to South America, wouldn’t it make you happy to tell your son and his little family that you have just completed arrangements to guarantee that, if anything ever happens to you, a check will come to them every month so their work may continue? And wouldn’t you like to be able to write a letter to the other two missionaries, giving them the same message?”

There was a long silence. Then Mr. Scott thanked Frank for helping him discover a serious oversight in his planning. Frank had shown him that what he truly wanted was for the missionary work to continue. After tying down the sale, Frank walked out of that office with a check for $9,000. And that was in the 1940’s, when $9,000 was a whopping insurance premium! How can you do what Frank Bettger did and help your customers get what they really want?

It’s very simple. You do what he did. You do your homework, you ask intelligent questions, and you listen. Here’s how . . . Phone at least 10 customers who have bought your product/service recently. Tell each one something like this: “John, I’m doing some quick customer research so we can provide better service to all our customers. Can you tell me why you bought our product/service recently?” The customer will probably give you a few standard answers. You then say, “That’s great — and what else?”

By asking this second question, you will often get customers to tell you what they really wanted when they purchased your product/service. Their answers can provide clues that will help you get new clients by giving them what they really want. Here’s a personal example. A few years ago, I was selling self-improvement seminars. People would attend these seminars and apply the ideas in them to achieve better results in a wide range of areas.

And, in fact, many companies would pay for their staff members to attend. I used to think that the reason most people attended was to improve their performance and productivity and get more motivated. Then one day I rang up 10 good clients and asked them why they had invested money in the seminar.

First, they told me the things I expected to hear. I said, “That’s great — and what else?” Then one of my clients told me something that I never would have guessed. He said that the real reason he had sent two of his people to the seminar was to thank them for doing great work. In other words, they were already his most productive people. But by giving them two days off at his expense to attend a seminar, he figured they would become even more motivated. What he told them was that he was delighted with their efforts and wanted to reward them. It worked out just as he had hoped.

His two employees came away from the seminar feeling even more positive about their work. And they were thrilled that he had rewarded them in this way. The light bulbs went off in my head. This opened up a whole new avenue of sales for me. I now had another way to help my clients get what they wanted. I wondered how many other potential clients might want to use my seminars to reward and thank key people in their organization for doing great work.

So I began asking all of my prospects if they had a really special employee that they wanted to thank. If they said “yes,” I explained how this seminar would make a fantastic gift that the employee would always treasure — a wonderful way to reward his performance. Many prospects took my recommendation and invested in this self-improvement seminar for some of the top performers in their company. Like Frank Bettger, I had learned that when you ask the right questions it can be very easy to get information that will help your clients get what they really want — and improve your sales.

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