berries-2558_640On the last afternoon (after 3 pm to be exact) on the last day of an information-stuffed, tongue-dragging-on-the-floor-exhausting training session, one of the instructors kicked off his presentation by showing this video: Increasing Sales of Milkshakes.

It was so compelling that I managed to lift my head off the desk to stare riveted at the screen. The premise was brilliant and yet utterly simple.

You should really go watch this video. It’s that good. But, just in case you don’t have time or aren’t inclined, I’ve included a brief recap. This is important stuff.

In the video, Clayton Christensen, tells the story of what happened when McDonald’s wanted to sell more milkshakes. Apparently, they tried adding flavors, changing the consistency, even paying for expensive ads that ran on the sides of buses. Milkshake sales remained flat.

Baffled and frustrated, the Marketing department decided to dig a little deeper. They started by identifying the time periods when McDonald’s sold the most milkshakes. They then followed up by stationing researchers in various McDonald’s restaurants to chat with buyers during these milkshake-heavy time periods.

Spoiler alert, here. The buyers were mostly men and the most popular buying time was breakfast. As these men headed out the door, the researchers asked them, “What did you hire that milkshake to do?”

Turns out these men had two things in common. They were all hungry and looking for something with staying power to fill them up. And, they had a long and boring drive to work to look forward to. In other words, they were looking to quell their hunger and be entertained.

The rest of the story is fascinating. But, for the sake of cutting to the chase, I’ll leave you here. That said, can you see the power in this single question? “What do our customers hire our product to do?”

Ideally, Marketing is sussing out the answer to this question. But, we both know that doesn’t always happen. The reality is that sales reps are in the best position to ask this question and have the most to gain from getting an answer. This is because the best time to ask this question is right after the rep closes the sale. This is when prospects are most likely to give the most genuine, top-of-mind answer.

And, that answer would set sales reps up to:

  • Speak to things their prospects actually care about
  • Share the most relevant stories
  • Highlight the most critical features and benefits
  • Deftly pivot the conversation when the prospect points out a feature the competitor offers that your product doesn’t
  • Make suggestions for future product enhancements

The beauty of this question is that sales reps would be able to take the all too ubiquitous guesswork out of their conversations with prospects. Can you imagine how that might impact sales?