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Questions Should Educate Not Recriminate0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Question have for the most part have become the instrument of choice for most B2B sellers. While that’s good news, it is a mixed story. Many have switched from pitching to using questions, but they have not made the attitudinal shift to fully benefit from questions. Rather than using questions to facilitate a full and – mutual – discovery process, they serve to narrow and limit the discussion to the seller’s agenda. A pitch by any other name is still a pitch, and no matter that wrapping, the intent still come through, and buyers still step back or away.

I recently was prospected buy a provider, going in I told them I was aware of the type of service they sold, but it was not a priority, nor was it on my wish list. At this point sellers choose one of three paths:

1. Tuck and run, saying something like “well maybe I can send you some material for when you decide to consider a service like ours”.
2. Almost as popular, recriminate the buyer by pointing out how things have changed, and they are missing the point, “and let me tell you why…”, dragging out a horde of self-serving stats.
3. The lesser chosen path, educate the buyer by making them aware of things impacting their business that they may not be aware of, and showing them how their offering can help the buyer move towards their objectives.

This is a common scenario for many sellers. It is a fork in the road that separates the good from the also-rans. She chose door number 2, and being the business I am in, I went along to see where we would end up, and told her as much. Needless to say, first thing she asked is “what do you guys do?” When I told her, she still didn’t clue in, and continued by saying “that’s why you need ACME widget”.

The good will use the opportunity to help educate the buyer; the also-rans use it as an opportunity to pitch. Let’s be clear, I am all about the sale, but at this crucial stage, the vendor and product are secondary, and the focus needs to be on engagement, which means using questions as a means of educating. This education needs to be mutual, as stated above, the seller needs to be as open to learning, as they expect the buyer to be. While this may take more effort than the alternatives, it is an evolving cycle, what I learn in my current sale, I will be able to use in the next, the more I learn, the more I sell.

Our friend took the predictable path, recriminate me for not knowing what she does, and not having her world view. After a few perfunctory questions, mostly for the purpose of seeing where I fit on the product grid provided by her marketing team. like “what do you do?” Questions like “did you know..?” Followed by a scary outcome plaguing those who don’t use their product to address the “did you know”. While it may be true that I didn’t know what she wanted me to know, I knew more than she did. In the end, I learned a bit about how she sells, and I will be able to leverage it moving forward. She learned nothing, did not get a sale, and will never be able to recover the 30 minutes she spent on the call.

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Businesswoman wearing red cape and opening her shirt like superhero

A Super Question You Should Use4

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

In the past I had written about the fact that your sales process and the way you or your team execute that process is most likely the last real way of differentiating yourself from your competition. I think by now we can all agree that product is rarely the deciding factor; and when it is, it is usually driven by price, regardless of what marketing is smoking. With all due respect and deference to product designers, engineers, marketing and branding folks, when you look at it in the cold light of day, there is not that much difference in the top two products in most categories. What many will tout as being different, is more subjective than data or fact based. With 85% – 90% feature overlap, one may be able to spin the benefits a bit, but if products could sell themselves, I’d be writing a different blog. As with beauty or value (or some tell me), difference is often in the eye of the beholder.

So what can you do to sound or be different when selling. There is a whole bunch of things, but I think the easiest lies in the questions you ask. And among the many questions you can and should ask, there is one I like because it is easy to answer, sets you apart from many, you will learn a whole bunch of useful things, and despite its high octane, it has no risk, all upside.

What’s the question you ask? (Sorry I just had to) Here it is:

“What is the one thing you have always wanted from a supplier like me (us), but have never had anyone do, or deliver?

Many I present this question to are first taken aback. They say, “what if they come up with something we can’t do or deliver?” There is only one answer to that: who cares?

By definition they have not gotten this from anyone, just look at the question. The fact that you can’t do it, does not put you in a bad light. Let’s go to extremes, say they want to go to Mars, first class with kosher meals, no one can do that, so there is no downside.

In a more conventional setting, say they come up with something you can’t do, you don’t look any worse than the others, but there is upside. You can explore why they are looking for that specific thing. That will give you great insight about the buyer, and more importantly their objectives. In most cases you get bonus points for trying.

By understanding what they are trying to achieve, you may be able to offer an alternative means of achieving the very thing, but in a different way. Most buyers are focused on achieving their objectives, few will get hung up on the means, if you get them there, you get the glory.

What you’ll also find is that at times you can in fact deliver what they respond with, or something so close, it will satisfy the requirement. In this case asking the question has nothing but upside, you win the deal, the client, and referrals to follow. Those referrals are likely to focus more on how you sold them and met their expectations than product.

There is no safer question in sales. All upside, no downside. Try it, it’s a gas.

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why button presses hand pop art retro style. Knowledge and issues, education and science

What is Not Why – Sales eXecution 3261

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Start of the year is when you see a lot of policy changes, changes in fees, service levels etc. Done right this could actually help sales people and drive revenues, yes even price increases. Done wrong, it just leaves a bad flavour in people’s mouth and minds. Having had to face new fees and policies, I have come to observe that there is a missing element in how sales people, and I would argue all who interface with clients in any way, deal with change. More specifically, how their companies fail to prepare these front line assets, and as a result lose customers and revenues in the process.

My experiences recently did not relate to price, but how and why the changes were implemented.

Example one, I recently went to renew a service I had been using for over 20 years. This was different, this time I was a fee, that in both relative and absolute terms was more than excessive. Needing the service, I hummed and hawed, but paid the ransom, and given that I was paying for the party, I asked “why is this fee in place now, and why this amount?” The representative responded “When you renew you have to pay $180.” I repeated, “OK, I get it, $180, why, why do I have to pay this when I never had to pay it in the past, I don’t seem to be receiving anything over and above or different than in the past, so why the additional $180 now, I understand the what I have to pay, but I would like to understand WHY?” I am still waiting for the answer.

I don’t really blame the “Representative Drone 100 Model”, they were programed to collect, but they should have given the Drone the ability to explain why, even a couple of plausible explanation. Even if I disagreed with the “why” it would have seemed lass a money grab and more a function of their business.

This type of disconnect and apparent ignorance, plagues many sales people and organizations. They are great at talking to clients about what their product does, how it does it, often in great and irrelevant detail. But when it comes to why, as in why do I need this, why will this make a difference for me, and a whole range of important why’s, there are few answers. The buyer is left to figure it out on their own; the rep feels that they have done their job by laying out the dots, and assume that the buyer will connect it on their own. I guess you can look at your close ratio and margins to see how well that is working.

Sure some buyers will connect the dots because they have to, they have an immediate need or medium term need that they know they have to deal with, and as a result will make the effort to meet the seller more than half way. But this is a small portion of your market, for most 20% – 30%, leaving some 70% without a clear need and therefore a complete lack of inclination to make the effort.

For this large segment it is all about the ‘Why’. As a seller we need to not only make sure that the dots align to their objectives, not as visible as pain or need, and heavy on the ‘Why’ of how this will impact their business. Their ‘need’ is to achieve objectives, if you can’t explain why they will not be able to achieve it without your offering, or why your offering will enhance their objectives and their journey, they really have no reason to speak to us. Which is may be why their pipeline is in the state it is in.

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Questioning Assumptions0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Assumptions

I remember reading somewhere about a company that had set up different office, each with a different motif. One would be full of things relating to fishing, another would be all decked up with pictures of golf courses and golf related chachkas. The goal was to stump the sales people who would come through, often it played out to be stump the chump. They wanted to see how many sales people would fall into the trap of trying to create rapport by making small talk, no let’s be honest and call it what it is, empty talk, by trying to relate to and talk to the motif in the room. You’ve seen it, the sales rep trying to chummy up to the buyer buy talking about his fishing adventures or golf outings.

What the sales people didn’t realize is that none of the pictures include the person they were meeting with, there were no names on the door, these were their “sales social experiment”, and not social in today’s context. If and when a sales rep bit, the company had a bit of a chuckle, and the rep’s stature went down a notch.

While we can talk about the merits of this little experiment, it does highlight how easily some sales people assume things through their filters, and run with those assumptions till they hit a wall or fall off a cliff, and it’s too late to recover. If you think something is so, even something as obvious as a person liking golf because of the pictures on the office wall, why not ask a question instead of making a statement. Put in the form of a question you give the prospect a chance to correct you, without putting yourself in a corner. What’s more, in the process of correcting you, they often share additional and valuable information or nuance that can prove to be valuable in moving the sale forward.

Even when things seem obvious, they are often not.  I’ll give a personal experience, on a regular basis I receive calls from strangers, who start by telling me how great they get along with someone I did a webinar with, or was on a panel with, making the assumption (and hoping) that because our names share a billboard it will warm their way into my heart.  The reality is that this just heightens my suspicions about their intents, given that other than that one event we have little in common; in fact at times, I am there as a counter to the other panelist’s view.  Yet if they would not lean on this false assumption who knows what they may be able to achieve?  Just because my name is Tibor does not mean I like goulash, I’ll take a hot vindaloo any day.

While it may take a bit of effort, it would be so much more profitable to validated things before betting the farm, or in this case the outcome of the sales call or the whole sale.

Yes, even when you think you know something, test it, because often you will find that you really didn’t know until it is much too late or costly.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

What’s Your Question? – Sales eXchange 2150

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

iStock_000004159256XSmall

Most would agree that questions are the most powerful weapon; a seller has at their disposal. Yet it is interesting to see how many will either not use them at all, or to their full advantage. As with any weapon, practice is key, not just on the battlefield, but off the field as well, the better you become at the technique the better the outcome for both you and your buyer.

But day after day you see sellers come to play with either the wrong questions, dull questions or just plain stupid questions.

Some questions are so self-serving they leave buyers just depressed and so reluctant to answer, because they know that the “correct”, not the right, answer will just extend a bad selling experience. A couple of weeks ago I had someone trying to sell me a piece of technology that would “just rock my sales”. After a few set up statements, he highlighted the areas that he was claiming his app would help, and then he used one of my most hated forms of question: “Wouldn’t you agree that blah blah blah would be a good thing?” In this case knowing what the prospect was thinking about the presentation. It is a no win situation for the buyer, and everyone knows it. Yes it would be good to know that, but if I pick that obvious answer it does not mean that your app can do it, or more importantly that I want, like or am remotely interested in your app; but if I provide the “correct” answer, I am committing to play the stupid game – or – trap. So I decided to take the less painful route and said no. Which highlights another misuse of questions, no follow up to the “no”; they are all set for the “yes”, because it is the logical answer, but throw in a “no” at the right (wrong) time, and watch the void, in their eyes, sales and pipeline.

This is sadder (funnier) than we think, all it takes is a little practice to know how you will handle any of the potential responses to your question. After all, as sales people we are usually in the advantageous position of asking the first question in most selling situation (if you are not asking the first question 99% of the time, then you are an order taker not a sales person); given that, you should figure out in advance what the answers potentially may be, and then plot a course for each one, except the one where the prospect disqualifies themselves, then just work on replacing them.

People answer the question they are asked, extrapolating that to mean things you “need” them to be can be a mugs game. Avoid this in two simple ways. First make sure that ask a number of validating follow through questions, get to the root of the issues, and don’t just linger at the surface. Second, come at the issue from a number of different angles, things can be interpreted differently by different people based on their views and experiences. By exploring the issue from a few different viewpoints will ensure an understanding, and that you are really working with someone in a position to buy. It may take time and effort up front, but it beats getting one right answer but no sale.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You Selling Like A Child?10

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Child with PC asking

Maybe You Should!

When you get to be my age you end up spending a lot of time with adults, full of expectations, bound by ritual, shackled by their habits, blinded by their opinions, limited by their knowledge. So it was refreshing to spend some time with some so five to seven year olds last week. Beyond their energy level, I came to see why kids are the best sales people on the planet.

Once I adjusted for the noise level and energy I began to notice their sales skills come to the fore. First I noticed is that they have little or no inhibitions. They will try anything without stopping to figure out “why not”, they are just happy to have the experience. How many times have you coached a “professional sales rep”, asked them to do something they knew needed to be done to move the sale forward or close it, only to have recite a laundry list of why they can’t do that? Keep in mind that what they are being asked to do is not illegal, immoral, or unethical. In many cases these are the very things their colleagues are executing day in and day out to win deals, and exceed goal. Yet the reps in question will tell you why they can’t or won’t, and sadly, often the reasons are the same no matter the activity, a closed mind that limits only their success. While these kids are willing to try anything, especially when their friends are doing it and having fun in the act. In fact you are more likely to tell them not to do things, and they respond by asking “Why?” every sales person secret weapon word.

I was answering a prospect’s e-mail on my handset, and right a barrage of question, “who you writing, what are you writing, why, why them, what for, what are you gonna get out of it, why now, what are they gonna get out of it, what if you didn’t write them, do you have to answer everything they asked, will you buy me an ice cream with the money you make?”

And a million other questions. Brilliant, so energizing, because it made me have to think, just like questions make your prospect think, it challenges them to look beyond the race that is their day, to thinking about specific things. The questions they asked made me think about what and how I answered the e-mail. Credit for getting the next step I wanted should got to the kids.

One other thing about their questions is that they didn’t give a rat’ what about being politically correct, they just wanted the facts, they were not rude, nasty, or anything negative, just not hung up on all the adult things sales people tend to get hung up on.

They are also great closers, the best man. They know what they want, laser focus, and totally consumed by figuring out what they want and how to get it. Can you say persistent? I remember my oldest son approaching me when he was around seven, trying to get cookies for his brother and he.

“Dad, can Ez and I have a cookie? One or Two”

I had to give him permission for two, how many did your prospect give you?

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

You Should Lead With Price – Sales eXchange 2072

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

change

If sales were presented as a play, the typical flow would seem to be: segment, identify, qualify, engage, discovery, gain commitment, negotiate and close. Somewhere towards the latter part of “gain commitment” and “negotiate”, the issue of price becomes central to the plot, in fact with some sellers “negotiate” is really just a code word for “price haggling”.  This would explain why so many sales these days are won or lost on price, especially when “discovery” is rushed or executed in a cookie-cutter way.

The plan (I guess), is build value (place your methodology here, ours is good too), and align to price. The frustration for many is that they may not know the relative role of price till late in the game, especially when there is a low cost provider in the mix.  Wouldn’t it be better if you could learn if price will be the breaking factor much earlier in the play?

That’s the catch 22 of selling I guess, if you don’t build value you can’t justify or rationalize the price; on the other hand, you could spend time and energy building value and be defeated by price. What’s a seller to do?

Well, why not lead with price?

Counter-intuitive, maybe? Risky? Could be, but most things worth archiving involve a level of risk.  The opportunity and skill is in managing the risk and finding the balance where calculated risk consistently rewards the risk taker.

This is not to say that your meetings should start:

“Hi I am George, with ACME Solutions, the price is $42,000, plus 20% annual maintenance fee, ready to go?”

But there may be merit to putting price front and centre much earlier in the process. There is an element of this accepted, if not always executed, by many sellers in the form of exploring budget; in terms of its existence, availability, control and commitment.   But budget is different than price, how many times have you been able to check all the tick marks around budget but still lose on price?

But what if we did introduce process earlier?  The reality in many instances, the price is based on some formula, be it unit based or other elements, and sellers have a sense of what a deal is worth early in the play.  Before you protest the last statement in an effort to seem above the fray, go look at yours or any other forecast.  So why not put it on the table, and make it a way of introducing, driving and accelerating the value discussion.  After all, if they object to the price at that point you can get to the heart of the matter by asking them what they base their remarks on.  It is a great way to go to the real value discussion.  As both price and value are relative, you can find out what they see as value in their reaction to the price.

You can then use all the tools and techniques you would normally use to build value, but this time it can be much more collaborative.  The key is not think of it as defending the price, but as a mutual and collaborative value definition.  In the course of executing it, you can uncover objectives, separate needs from wants and a range of other things that make for a successful sale.  All without the suspense of the traditional ending.

As with most things in sales, we can stick to the same old, or so called fresh techniques that are the same old in new packaging.  Or you can try something that will not only differentiate you, the way you sell, and most importantly the outcome.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Impact Questions – Sales eXchange 1870

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Impact Question

Back in the 80’s or maybe even earlier, the purveyors of Consultative Selling, put a lot of emphasis on Open Ended Questions, for all the right reasons. It took some effort and focus to get sales people to adopt this style of interaction, especially after years of pitching and doing things the traditional (old) way.

Many sales people had difficulty being comfortable and effective in the vast openness provided by this style of questions. It was difficult to fight the urge to regress to their previous comfort zones, many sellers had to be continuously managed to adopt the new more effective question based selling.

One practice was to paint closed ended questions as being inferior, substandard, in those days, even communist in nature; may sound extreme, but in reality, closed ended question were uniformly vilified.  In fact the pendulum swung so far that closed ended question were just plain bad.  Today, in many workshops, you still hear people demonizing closed ended questions.

Well I am here to tell you that there are no such things as bad questions. There are very few if any absolutes in sales.  It’s more accurate to look at how appropriate a question is for a given circumstance.  If you look at questions as tools of the trade, there is no such thing as one tool fits all; there may be tools that are appropriate to various tasks, others may be useful less often
Which is why I am here to say that the much maligned closed ended question does have a place in B2B selling in 2013; hell I’ll go further to say it has a place in Sales 2.0 and/or Social Selling.  It is about the situation, what is the desired outcome, and what the next step needs to be from both parties perspectives.

Given the above there are regular occurrences in sales where closed ended question makes perfect sense. So I am on a mission to reintroduce this tool to your sales tool kit. A few years ago Timberlake made it his goal to being Sexy Back, so I am advocating the same for closed ended questions (although I am certain they will never be sexy, but the positive results delivered may be).

I am calling the updated version Impact Questions, a marketing friend told me that one needs to rebrand for re-launch; change the name and you change focus from potential negative connotations.

Let’s face it, there are times when you do want to focus things, narrow down the possibilities. Often you want close things off so you can move the process forward, or to realize that there is no forward to move to with a prospect and it may be time to move to the next opportunity.

During a cold call, oops, prospecting call, (need to be politically correct), open ended questions can take you off track; a question that works well in a sales call can be negative during a prospecting call.  There are other times when you do want a clear one or the other, a yes or a no.  It comes down to how the response serves the purpose.  What is the impact of the answer, and how that answer impacts the outcome.  For example, when I ask someone I called the first time if they “have ever worked with a third party trainer like Renbor?”, either answer serves to move the process forward, and could prove to be a benefit for both.  Rather than using a series of open ended questions to arrive at the same point, a simple impact question focuses bith the prospect and I on the same critical turning point.

So know where you are trying to go, know how you can help a prospect or a customer, then ask the Impact Question, and deal with the impact, not whether it is open ended, closed ended, or some other ended, work to achieve positive impact for the buyer and yourself.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You Qualifying for Budget or Out Of A Sale?77

Many people involved in sales seem to be fixated with budget; they want to qualify for it way to early in the process.  I know it is important, but you maybe disqualifying perfectly good buyers for the wrong reason.

Your job in sales is to well, sell, which means identifying requirements or gaps in the prospect’s current situation.  But most, about 75% of potential buyers, don’t know, realize or admit they have requirements or gaps, remember – status quo is your biggest hurdle.  So if they don’t perceive a need, they don’t see a need to allocate budget.  This does not mean that they don’t in fact could benefit from your product, but they have lived with the pain long enough, or on the positive side they didn’t realize they could achieve their goals by taking advantage of your offering.  Ask this type of person about budget too early, and you will end up disqualifying a perfectly good buyer.

If you are talking to the right people in the right way, budget is very much an issue that can be (at times easily) overcome.  Consider these examples, have you ever walked into an electronics store looking to buy a flat screen, you know what you had in mind, you encountered a clerk who “qualified you”?  They asked a bunch of questions, including budget, and then showed you two or three products that fit what you described.  Contrast that with the time I walked into an electronics store, with a specific flat screen in mind, shopped it on line in advance so I had a budget in mind, but I encountered a different sales person.  She asked me why I was buying the TV, had I had a flat screen before?  What type of things would I be watching?  She then continued to ask if I what kind of DVD player I had, telling me about Blue Ray, asked if stream from the web, and of course since I told her I watch music DVD’s, what was I using to maximize the sonic experience.  When all was said and done, I had exceeded my flat screen budget by $250, or 20%; in addition I became the proud owner of an unbudgeted Blue ray player, decided to give my inadequate home theater system to the kids, how else was I going to make room for the new one.

You can say I was an impulse buyer, I would argue that I was maximizing my investment in my enhanced flat screen.  Either way there is no arguing that rather than qualifying me for budget, she qualified me for what I was trying to achieve and how to best maximize that over the life of my new Smart TV.

Corporate buyers are no different, the higher you go in the organization, the truer this is.  Executives are able to create budget, able to shift funds around, and make a buy based on a host of factors beyond budget.  I have many clients who did not have budget for training when I cold called them, but after we engaged, and I demonstrated how their investment in what I do will deliver results and returns that will exceed their investment, and justify an unbudgeted expenditure.

Executives want, no need, to make a difference, show them how you can do that and you will find a person motivated to make things happen.  Show them that you primary interest is their ability to spend, and even those with budget will self-disqualify.  It’s about engagement and investment – not budget.  Go ahead, qualify someone for a better competitor.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

A Sales Association #Webinar31

“Leveraging Value from Engaging the Buyer to Closing the Sale” – A Sales Association Webinar
Tuesday, October 30 – 2 p.m. EST / 1 p.m. CST / Noon MST / 11 a.m. PST (1 hour in length)

On Tuesday October 30, I have the privilege to deliver a webinar for The Sales Association – I will be talking to specific steps sellers can take to delivering and leveraging value throughout the sale.

Almost every conversation about selling starts or ends with the concept of value. At the same time, there are as many different understandings and definitions of value as there are sellers and buyers. Without a clear and actionable definition of value, many conversations between buyers and sellers are less than effective, and do not help create a buy.

Starting with a clear definition of value, participants will learn the five-step process to leveraging value throughout the sale, from the initial engagement to winning the client.

Steps include:

  • Identifying and validating buyer’s objectives
  • Understanding why buyers really buy
  • Why Buyers buy and don’t buy from you and your company
  • Converting the above to Impact Questions for quality conversations
  • A structured follow-through approach to maximize impact and progress

Participants will learn how to use this process to create alignment with the buyer, their objectives and buying process.

Click Her to Register Now!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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