What’s Your Question? – Sales eXchange 2150

By Tibor Shanto - tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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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

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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

What Are You Listening To? (Part II)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Listening Patiently

In Part I of this series, I looked at the importance of asking powerful impactful questions if you are looking to have something powerful to listen to, and impactful engagements.  The other attribute of good listening mentioned in the piece was patience.  Seems straight forward, but we have all jumped in to soon, unintentionally interrupting the buyer in mid-sentence or mid-thought.  By developing the discipline of patience, we can enhance the buy/sell experience for both parties.

In a world where most leading products/solutions look very much the same, how you sell, or more specifically, the buyer’s experience during your sale, could be the best way to differentiate yourself and product from the pack.  Sellers have been pitched to death, they unfortunately expect Muzak like questions, and have fallen in to the habit of giving Muzak like answers; in effect they have become conditioned by previous sellers, who have trained buyers to give shallow and brief answers.   Every time they start answering a question in meaningful and detailed way, and they are cut off by a seller, they are conditioned to answer with shorter and less detailed and useful answers.  The interruption may be rooted in excitement about the fit, unfortunately the message the buyer gets, is “this guy is not interested in the full answer, just what serves his needs”.  Each time they are unable to fully express themselves, they “learn” that the seller may not be really interested in the answer, so they provide the bare minimum.

If you decide to take on the suggestions in Part I, and move towards asking very direct and provocative questions, you need to prepare, and more importantly allow for longer and more detailed answers, which requires a patient listening style that encourages the buyer to speak in detail, and create a meaningful dialogue.  It is up to you to recondition and reshape the buyer’s expectations and experience.

The reality is that there are a lot of things going on in a sales meeting, sellers have to keep track of and balance various inputs and cues, at the same time analysing and formulating how to piece the information together in a usable way, while at the same time finding ways to move the sale forward.  It takes effort and practice not to jump in when presented with an opening.  But with a little practice and effort, you can change the experience and the outcome.

In light of the fact that we think and speak faster than people talk or we listen, we need to work hard at slowing down, and being patient enough to succeed, it does take effort not to add to the buyer’s negative conditioning.  As a young seller I was taught a simple two step technique that encourages the buyer to speak more and in greater detail, while allowing me to differentiate from other sellers.  As you ask provocative and open ended questions, divide your note page in half, on the left side take notes as you normally would.  On the left side write down two things, first, all the things the buyer says that you want to jump in and comment on, and save them for later.  The other are questions you can ask based on what the buyer is saying.  This forces you to listen more intently, not race ahead or make assumptions, but patiently and tactically listening with purpose.  Once the buyer has finished (on their) own, you can ask the questions you wrote down, demonstrating that you did indeed listen.  You can also go back and review and build on the points you wrote down rather than interrupting, again encouraging the buyer to expand and elaborate further, and see you as a listener, and someone worth talking to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

What are you Listening To? (Part I)2

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

listening

Ask a group of sales people what are the most important attribute or abilities a good sales person needs to master, and “Listening Skills” will usually be near the top of the list.  No argument here, the ability and as importantly the patience to listen are crucial.  Beyond the common aspects of listening, there is the issue of what you are listening to.  Based on the question, you could find yourself doing a lot of great listening, with little progress, or return for the effort.

So while listening is a good discipline, the skill still comes down to the quality of the question.  Great questions make for worthwhile listening; crappy questions lead to… well you know.

Buyers have become immune to the most often asked common questions, some may have been fresh the first time they were asked, but by the third time they were asked “if you could change one thing….?” Or any other question of this sort, they develop a standard canned answer, which if not deflected by the seller, will lead to the same predictable outcome, no sale or discounted sale, I guess that’s the penalty for bad questions.

If you want something good to listen to, you need to ask good questions, the better the question, the better listening, the better the engagement.   Where there is a range of opinions is around what is a good question.  From where I sit, you need ask questions that penetrate the protective shield buyers have developed to protect themselves from the usual lot of overtly self-serving questions sellers ask, of course delivered in a consultative mode.

The questions need to be provocative, spark the buyer to think, at times shock them into thinking.  Think of even though a buyer has granted you an hour, they still have a 16 hour work day they are trying get in to a ten hour day, with all the challenges that go along with that.  Just like we as sellers are thinking (and listening) ahead of where we are, so are they.  Your question need to stop them in their track, get off the tread mill, and actually think about their answers, not just illicit a response, responses don’t make for good listening.

Unfortunately, people don’t like to provoke, they fear making client uncomfortable, so instead they ask Namby-pamby questions, soft and cuddly, almost asking the buyer to be their friend rather than an agent of change, or a person of value.  These kind of soft light questions ultimately lead to light listening, like Muzak at the supermarket.

You can build more provocative questions that help you get below the surface of the issues, getting to the root of what the buyer’s objective are and how you can help eliminate hurdle, identify gaps, and mine those gaps to close them in helping the achieve those objective.  The goal is to get past the here and now, to where they need/want to be, where you can add value.  To do that you need something good to listen to.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Open Ended Sales Meetings?4

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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Not long ago I posted a piece about the positive side of “closed ended” questions, and their place in the sale cycle.  As with many things it is rarely the case of one versus the other but more of which is more appropriate for the scenario, and in sales for achieving the objective you set out to accomplish.

Sellers can and should take the concept of open ended and closed ended, and apply it to actual sales meetings.  What you’ll find is that sales meeting properly executed should be more of a closed ended event, but all too often they end up being an open ended, in fact too open-ended, often becoming ever meandering affairs.  The kind meeting which seem like they may never end, especially when you add a torturous layer of PowerPoint; or they end without a specific conclusion or direction.  The meetings which follow frequently seem to be another try at getting it right, instead of moving things forward.

The problem usually comes down to what the objective is going into the meeting.  I have written in the past about sales people not having a handle on the length of their sales cycle, saying things like “It depends”, or offering an unrealistic “oh 3 – 6 months”; that’s a big variable given that time is your most precious resources, and non-renewable to boot.   Taken a step further and asking them how many meetings it may take to close the deal, they answer with less confidence and more ambiguity.

Well if you don’t know how many meetings it may take, (live or by phone, webinar, smoke signals), it becomes really hard to have specific outcomes or objectives for each meeting.  This is why sellers at time lose control of meetings, leaving the client to take the meeting to a conclusion, one with no real next step.

Knowing what you want out of each meeting allows you to plan objectives, primary and secondary, plan next steps, and build a structure for the meeting, including questions, that will help you and the buyer meet mutual objectives.  Absent that, it begins to look like an experience with the “Be found” camp, having  abdicate their role as sellers,  they are hoping the buyer will find something to continue for, something to buy.  I propose they are hoping the client has a need, hoping they can strike a relationship based on something other than the buyer’s objective, hoping for the order.

Having clear objectives, measures and next steps defined and planned in advance will also allow you to do one other thing with great confidence, that is disqualify buyers.  If you cannot achieve your stated objective, having executed your plan, you have to seriously consider that you are not dealing with a real buyer, real like the ones who buy when you achieve your mutually stated objectives.

I remember working with a “rock star” in Boston, he confidently told me his deals on average take four meetings, great, what was his measure of success for the first meeting, his objective? With expected bravado, he proclaimed “to close the deal man!”  He did not have an answers as to why he bothered going back three other times if he was going to close the sale during the first meeting.  Although there is a prospect I have, who will never buy from me, but he loves the same bands I do, and makes a great espresso, I love going there, but I leave my order pad in the car.

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

Plan Z – Sales eXchange 1831

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

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I think (hope ) it is safe to say that every seller, especially B2B, has a Plan A.  A road map or process for how they plan to engage with a buyer, and work with them to mutually navigate the buy and sale process to arrive at a mutually beneficial situation, each party attaining their objectives.  Having said that, I still see many who wing it.

What surprises me is the number of sales people or organizations who have a game plan or playbook, that is totally one dimensional in nature.  It starts by completing a pastel coloured sheet, same info, same way, every time; some have a Plan B, they go to it based on the push back to Plan A.  Now this would not be a big problem if you are selling a commodity, in what can be described as a “binary” sale, but it is an absolute killer if you are selling anything that involves more than a price decision.

Rather than using a “plan” or playbook approach, it is more effective to use a mind map approach.  This allows you to evolve with the buyer as you uncover facts, opportunities and aspirations.  You can use Plan A to engage, and begin the process, but as each client is different (in big or small ways) you need to adapt rather than try to get the client to fit the plan or playbook.

The way to achieve this is to commit to two basic disciplines.  First, is to commit to reviewing all sales transactions you are involved in, whether you won them or not.  This will allow you to anticipate broad and narrow trends,  and adjust your game in real time.   Think of this like watching the game tapes.

To support this, you need to adopt the practice of follow through questions, not question, but questions.  Most sellers tend to stay narrow and shallow, they hear something that sounds like what they need to hear, and they go with it.  But if you develop the skill to ask several layers of “impact questions”, you not only get to the root of the opportunity, but differentiate yourself from those who stop at the surface or layer two.  Combined these give you the grounding to go beyond what you practiced with on the nice coloured sheet, while not meandering, because in the end you still need to bring home the revenue.

Mind mapDiscipline is one thing, rigidity is another, this is why we introduce the concept of fluidity.  Visually it may be easiest to think of this approach as a three dimensional “Sales Mind Map”.   It forces you to think, anticipate and respond based on client input, while leveraging market and sales experience.  It allows you to not only have a Plan A, Plan B, but a method for having options that may take you to Plan Z, all based on the buyer’s objectives and requirements.

Enter the Art of Sales Contest – Win Tickets

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Know The Why – Sales eXchange 17689

While the sales industry continues to improve and move the dial on “pitching” less, and asking more questions, adopting the “Don’t Ask – Don’t Sell” http://www.sellbetter.ca/?p=1938 philosophy.  But many are still asking questions that serve their purposes only, not so much for the buyer’s, and even when they do they seem to lack the skills or courage to deep enough with their question to truly make a difference for either.

Probing question most often concentrate on the ‘what’, ‘when, ‘where’, and the ‘how’ of the situation at hand.  No doubt these are important, but on their own, they fail to deal with factors that underpin value and foster a true relationship, one delivering mutual benefits for both seller and buyer.  Sadly one contributor to this shortcoming are sales experts in my own field.  Many actively tell their clients not to ask ‘Why”.  I have yet to get a good answer as to why they say this.

Most tell me that it is too intrusive.  What does that mean?  It is my job to be intrusive in that way.  Most present intrusive in a negative way, but being “disruptive” is part of my mandate to help my clients evolve, change and move forward for the better.  After all they don’t buy things to stay the same.

The main purpose for asking the why question is to get to the real underlying reason for them engaging with you.  Now it’s one thing if you’re one of those “wait to be found sellers”, the buyer is way ahead of you in their buying cycle, and you’re just one of a number of participants in the bathing suit contest.  But if you got to the potential buyer before they were even thinking of being in the market, you need to ask a whole bunch of ‘why’ questions before you are in a position to offer up a solution.  Unless you want to be a solution running around looking for a problem or pain, you need to get used to asking why, and even when the buyer answers the first why, you will likely have to ask follow up whys.

To understand the buyer’s real motivation, to get them to understand that you really do have their interest at heart, you need to park the product, and focus on the person.  It takes courage to ask a buyer why they are thinking of doing something or doing it in a specific way, especially if all the other sellers lined up and say whatever they think the buyer wants to hear to get the order.

I sometimes wonder if the main reason some are afraid to ask why is because they don’t know what to do with the answer they get.  They haven’t been trained again, because it is still about selling the product.  If only they accepted that more sales made when it is about really helping the buyer, even when the buyer initially thinks they need to go one way, but end up in a better place after a genuine and intrusive why.

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Don’t forget to vote

Beyond Value18

There is no shortage of talk in sales about benefit and value. While it may have taken a bit of time to get sales people to focus on value, not as defined by a “value proposition” crafted by your marketing department, but value as perceived and defined by your buyer. This is why we teach sellers to use the Discovery phase of the EDGE Sales Framework as a mutual process; mutual meaning both discovering things about the buyer, and allowing the buyer to discover things about your offering and in the process mutually defining the common value.

Read On…

What’s in You Pipeline?

Saturday Sales Tip – 1316

What Is The Impact?

(* A bit late today because my 5:00 pm frpm Calgary last night finally took off at 10:00 pm.)

If you’ve been in sales for longer than two days you are familiar with WIIFM: What’s In I t For Me?  The question every prospect is asking and the one they have the right to know. Still a large number of sales people confuse the ME in the question for themselves rather than the prospect.

This is not because they don’t care, or want to ignore the buyer, but because they confuse what is of interest to the buyer, or how the prospect makes key decisions. Most still think that what is in in it for the buyer is what their marketing brochure or website features.  If you think I am too harsh, take two minutes got to any five web sites at random and see if it speaks to the buyers’ view or the sellers’ view.  With some web site, it’s hard to understand who they speak to at all, or what they are speaking about period.

One exercise we always do with sellers is asking them to answer: “what do you sell?”  For the most part what we hear is product description; on a good days broad benefits, and a great day specific benefits. What we rarely if ever hear is the impact the sellers’ offering has on the buyer’s business or objectives.

Once the buyer can clearly understand the specific impact the seller and their offering can have on the buyer’s business, or conversely, the downside impact of not having our offering will have, then there is a not only a greater likelihood that they will engage, but that they will also act.

The key to knowing the impact rests in two areas, the discovery questions you use, and experience. Now experience does not mean that new reps have an excuse, they can draw on the collective experience of their organization.  This where the manager and the induction process a company has in place will have an impact on the success of new reps ramping up quickly, and by extension the success of the selling organization.

Taking that experience and learning how to turn them into good Impact Questions is the next step.  Again, this is a simple process of building on things many sales people are already good at and taking it to the “Art” level of sales.  Most are good at the old game of feature benefit, all you have to do then is ask the question “to what end?”

From the clients’ stand point, in understanding their objectives, to what end is that feature truly a benefit.  What is the direct and specific impact for the client?  So maybe instead of focusing on the client asking “What’s In It For Me?”  Sellers should answer the more relevant question the buyer is likely asking: “What’s The Impact For or On Me?”

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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