One of my favourite genres is court or trial based stories, could be a movie, play, TV program, but especially novels, where the author has room to fully explore elements and take one to unexpected places. These are usually larger than life, and even when the plot is viable, the settings, are exaggerated, full of symbolism than reality, all with the goal of drawing in the audience. You gotta love it, all the fantasy, all the pomp, and of course, all the dram, just like sales.
In these dramas, you inevitably run through the usual clichés, (just like sales), one of them being the usual set of actions by one attorney leading to an objection by the other, at least one for every five minutes of courtroom sequence. The one that reminds me most of sales is when one party objects to the other’s line of questions by suggesting that they are “leading the witness”.
Sales people get caught in this trap regularly, but often the prospect does not object out loud as they do in the movies, they just don’t buy, and usually we really don’t know why, because we think we asked the right questions, feel (rather than know) we got the right answer, only to be left asking in the end “what happened?”This happens when we ask questions that we are hoping to get an affirmative response to, and when we do we feel we are progressing, and we keep piling on these questions, realizing too late that prospect was giving us the answers we wanted, rather than what they would say if the question were put differently.
We have all been on the receiving end of this experience, it usually sounds like “wouldn’t you agree that it would be ‘good’ if you could ‘do ___________’?” Sure, prospects will agree, it would be almost illogical to disagree, as the questions are usually routed in some logical premise and phrased in a way that you are forced to say yes, but how sincere is that yes? How many times have you said yes to move things along, feigning to agree, but with zero or less conviction?
Prospects know when they are being led, and don’t often like, and reward it even less frequently. They know that the questions are delivered in a way to limit the discussion to those things that highlight your product. Problem is that often the difference is sales success is not the product, but the sales experience, as I have stated in the past, how you sell is the last differentiator. So if the prospect does not see a different sales experience, they will see little difference, and every other seller trying to lead them down a self-serving path. While the questions may make sense, they also clearly demonstrate that you want to sell things based on your view of the world, not their specific priorities.
You can take the same thought process, but deploy a different set of questions to engage the prospect and encourage them to open up and share things with you that they would not when they are being led. Rather than you painting the end state you think they need based on your quota and you needs, ask them to pain the end state they see. If you feel based on your experience that they may have overlooked something, or are making an erroneous assumption, you can still share alternative. The best alternatives are not questions that put them back on “your track”, but alternatives based on what you have seen clients do differently to achieve that outcome or objective.
Asking questions that lead to discussion, an opportunity for you to demonstrate you expertise and value, and help the prospect consider alternatives based on client experience is a good thing, because again, it provides the prospect with a different experience. But asking questions that lead to the prospect being boxed in, may lead to answers you want to hear, but not sales.