question-markYesterday I was at the gym. (Though I never achieved the bikini body I’d hoped for this summer, I do try to stay fit). While there, I noticed a sign-up sheet for a free session with a personal trainer. I thought this would be a great opportunity to pick up tips on my workout and get the most out of my routine.

The young man behind the counter noticed I was signing up and introduced himself as one of the gym’s personal trainers. He then tried to sell me on a series of classes he taught, describing in detail the benefits of each class. After I made clear I wasn’t interested in classes, he let me know when he would be available for conduct my free session. He even said that “now” would be a really great time for him. I told him “now” was not a good time for me and made a quick exit.

As I thought about our conversation and all the do’s and don’ts of customer service (he never asked what type of workout I was looking for, whether I’d prefer a male or female personal trainer, or when was a good time for me), I realized he had been the only person behind the counter. There had been no manager to observe what had gone wrong and to provide feedback.

It’s great when sales managers have time to “walk the floor.” They can watch how well sales associates interact with clients and can polish performance through feedback and coaching. But let’s be realistic. Sales managers have a lot on their plates and they can’t always be around to coach. That means a good salesperson needs to know how to critique his or her own performance to be the best they can be.

The three-question model called “What?–So What?–Now What?” can help you reflect on how well a customer interaction has gone and create an action plan for continuous improvement. Here’s how it works:

What?
Think about what just happened. Did you make the sale? Was the customer satisfied? What surprised you? What did you notice about the interaction? Could the interaction have gone differently? Could you have upsold? Could the customer have left even happier? What else could you have learned about this customer?

So What?
How was the experience different from what you expected? What did you learn from this experience? What did you like/dislike about your performance? How did the experience affect you? How do you think the customer feels?

Now What?
Given the chance, would you have done something differently? What will you do next time? Do you need to follow up with this customer? What did you learn? Are there skills you would like to improve? Do you need support from your manager?

Using the “What?–So What?–Now What?” approach will help you reflect on your actions and sell more effectively. As you grow more comfortable using this self-critiquing technique, your interactions with customers will become more thoughtful and, in turn, more successful. You may also find your sales manager smiling the next time he or she observes you.