Here’s how to bridge the gap between what customers say and what they mean

It is the seller’s job to remove the jagged edges in communication, creating a warmer relationship with the buyer and making the sale easier.

Communication is a complicated thing. Even when you correctly hear what the other person said, it may not be what they meant. When a customer asks for a drill, the obvious response is to sell him one. But is it a drill he wants? Not necessarily, unless it’s intended as a gift. (I can’t imagine for whom, but stranger things happen). What he wants are the holes the drill makes. Yet, this is not exactly true. What he really wants is to hang something on the wall, say, a picture. That is really what he meant to say-“I want to hang pictures.”

Read: How to avoid communication breakdown while selling

His problem was hanging a picture but he came and asked you for a drill. And why? A self-prognosis and therefore diagnosis of what he thinks is the obvious. Yet, if he said that he wants to hang pictures on the wall, and how can you help?, you could have offered alternatives including non-intrusive stick-on hooks. And this is the dilemma of the salesperson. To decipher what the customer actually means. In selling, ensuring that you are on the same page with the buyer is the foundation of success. Is it easy? Certainly not! Can it be done? Absolutely, yes. Here’s four ways how?

Common sense

If this supermarket has ordered a system (say a server), it is because the business needs demand it. It follows therefore that chances are that their competition requires it too as the businesses operate in the same environment. Therefore, when the competition says “we want to buy a server” or you call them to interest them in your server, zeroing in on how it will solve their problem positions you favorably in the buyers mind and makes the communication smoother.


Customers buy products to solve a problem and not because they like the product, much as that is what they will say. “I like the drill” he’ll say. Yet what he likes are the holes it makes or more accurately, the pictures he hangs on the walls, held in place by nails in the holes. Researching into why the customer buys the product or service quickly puts you on the same page as the buyer. For instance, by law, architects, doctors, lawyers and professionals that earn fees, are required to have professional indemnity insurance. With this knowledge in place your sale is much more focused on and shortened than if you didn’t know this.

Read: Research and explore to find out your buyer’s hidden need


When the lady says she’s looking for a pair of sunglasses, it is the wise hawker who, observing her dressing, tells her to “buy this pair because it complements the colour of your skin (or dress)”. The unwise one will say, “Miwani mia mbili” (two hundred shillings for the pair). Observation is the reason why the stall owner will invite you in with ‘Karibu jeans” or “Karibu open shoes” because you are most probably in a pair jeans or open shoes at the time. Note that he could be selling other stuff but he immediately zeroes in what will put you both on the same page.

Read: To get his attention, make the opening about buyer


This last one is the bane of many lost sales. Salespeople, in a bid to rush to the close, want to tell, not explore. Don’t just sell the drill, politely ask what it’s needed for. Don’t just apologize to the angry customer for the third time, who is berating you over the third ATM card that’s inexplicably gotten spoilt . Explore through questions where she stores it. “Right here. Together with my cell phone and other cards.” That revelation, offers the opportunity to solve the problem by educating her that the magnetic strip of the card is susceptible to getting spoilt when exposed to other magnetic strips and possibly cell phone transmissions. Questions, common sense, research and observation quickly remove the jagged edges in communication, creating a warmer relationship with the buyer and making the sale easier.

Read: Remove friction from the purchase experience

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