When Mark Roberge joined HubSpot’s executive team in 2007, there was no sales force. He was one of just four employees and the only salesperson on staff. Over the next five years, Roberge would interview thousands of applicants, hire hundreds more and help HubSpot scale from a startup to a multi-million dollar marketing powerhouse.
Lucky for us, he also took detailed notes on which candidates he hired and why. In his book, The Sales Acceleration Formula: Using Data, Technology, and Inbound Selling to go from $0 to $100 Million, Roberge uses regression analysis to prove what we at Sherpa have long known to be true: In a complex, relationship-dependent sales environment, customers want to buy from people who are curious and helpful, not aggressive and high-pressure.
“The internet’s rise in prominence has caused a shift in power from the salesperson to the buyer,” says Roberge, now a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. “With this shift in power, buyers will no longer tolerate being strong-armed into a purchase. They will respond to salespeople who are helpful, smart and respectful of their needs.”
Through insightful questions and active listening, Roberge’s sales hires demonstrated self-awareness and empathy, built trust and found more success guiding customers through change.
“Great salespeople are naturally curious,” Roberge says. “They ask great questions, listen intently, and probe into points of interest.”
Here are five reasons why great salespeople also tend to be highly curious people, according to Roberge:
- They make each exchange feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. “Great salespeople ask questions of potential customers in a manner that does not feel interrogative,” Roberge says. “Instead, potential customers feel like great salespeople are genuinely interested. After all, if the salespeople are truly great, they genuinely take interest in the responses of their prospects.”
- They ask questions that prove they’re listening. “Great salespeople educate potential customers through the questions they ask. Their questions are thought-provoking and elicit introspection,” Roberge says. You know you’re demonstrating curiosity when you hear a potential client say, “You know, nobody has ever asked me that before. Now that I think about it…”
- They’re not afraid of genuine connection. Potential customers want to be honest about their needs and feelings—but only with someone they can trust. “Great salespeople quickly build trust in order to earn the right to ask personal questions and to receive honest answers in return,” Roberge says.
- They know what they don’t know. Curiosity helps senior housing salespeople know which questions to ask to help seniors resolve emotional obstacles. “Great salespeople seek to understand customer goals, aspirations, fears, and struggles—all through tactical questioning,” Roberge says.
- They know curiosity is a demonstrable skill, not just a state of mind. Want to know if your curiosity is showing? Roberge offers a simple exercise: The next time you’re at a networking event or a party, see how long you can question a total stranger without mentioning anything about yourself. “If the individual walks away from the conversation feeling interrogated, you need more practice. If the individual walks away thinking, ‘Wow, that was a really smart and interesting guy,’ you are on your way to becoming a great salesperson.”
Curiosity is an indispensable tool in any senior housing sales counselor’s toolbelt. To practice compassionate curiosity in a more professional context, watch our video Change Is Like Climbing a Mountain and ask yourself:
- What information does Robin need to understand Mary’s readiness to leave her home?
- Is Mary open about her fears around moving into senior housing, or does Robin need to demonstrate inquisitiveness in order to find out?
- What questions would you ask Mary to help guide her through her decision making process?
empathy prospect-centered selling sherpa crm