good questions

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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THINKING PROCESS

Show Them You Can Think – Sales eXecution 3274

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

I recently sat through a demo for a product that potentially could have been of interest. The rep had just the right amount of enthusiasm, mix of personality based small talk, right down to the obligatory question asked by Americans of Canadians in January “How cold is it up there?”. The igloo is holding up I said.

He also had a great deal of knowledge about the product, its value to me, all based on their assumptions and perspective, and how I would be able to benefit from it. This was right after he asked me what I and my company do. He demonstrated his abilities to deliver his company’s talking points, demonstrate their product. And despite all he had going for him, he very much demonstrated that he could not think.

Like many sellers he did not go off script. He could talk about specific features, but could not connect them, especially in a way that would align with my view, not that of his marketing department.

First thing he did was assume that I was in pain, he did not ask what I had in place now that may deliver what his product did, he just assumed that I had the same pain the product was created for, and some their current customers had. Without having an understanding as to what I use or don’t use, and why; or where I was going and or why. He did the now famous “the world has changed” plot line, and highlighted that he was a social seller because he connected with me on LinkedIn before cold calling me.

What he lacked was contextual or situational thinking. As with any solid thinking, it starts with curiosity, he was not in the least curious about the company or what we are trying to do. He drudged out some “scary stats”, and then the requisite story about someone who fought those stats using his product, and landed a $750,000 deal, “wouldn’t that be great if you could do that?” I think he was a bit taken back when I said no, he almost went off script, but he recovered and continued his pitch.

He ignored some clear inputs that would have allowed him to alter his direction and actually get me involved. I had used a product like his in the past and had some specific questions about how they deal with very specific scenarios. The scenarios I described and questions I asked should have prompted him to abandon the high level “why this” talking points, and go for the more fertile “how for you” conversation. His idea of expertise was to talk to me as though I just landed on the planet.

It would be easy to blame the rep, but someone put him up to it. They built “pain seeking” robots, “anyone not in pain is a waste of time.” Which is sad, because their product is actually suited to companies looking to accelerate their success, but that takes positioning, aligning to business goals and objectives, and situational thinking. Too much effort there, let’s probe for pain. The most painful moment, and one where there was a complete void of thinking, it was the silence when I asked for an example of how they use the service.

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Are your Open Ended Questions Leading to Closed Ended Results? – Sales eXecution 3160

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Question ball and chain

Often the best sales books are not about sales or by sales experts. Case in point Dorothy Leeds’, the The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work. If you haven’t read this and you’re in sales, you are at a disadvantage to any rep that has. While the importance of questions has been explored by many, I keep coming back to this because she does not limit questions to being a sales tactic, but as a means of facilitating real communication and opportunities.

A key point in the book is that questions make one think. So true, yet so underutilized in sales. Rather than using where the buyer is as a starting point, and using question to go beyond, sellers use questions to bring the buyer to a space where the seller needs them, where their value proposition resides. Salespeople use question to box people into a space where they feel they can demonstrate their product and their perspective of value. You can hear it when they “wouldn’t you agree that if….., then you would be able to ….. better (faster, cheaper, etc.)…. Odd how the biggest proponents of Open Ended questioning, end up using questions to create a Closed Ended buying environment. The result is that these questions lead the prospect to in the opposite direction, leaving sellers to wonder why their great questions fail to inspire the buyer.

Want to inspire buyers, get them to think, to engage in a way that they don’t with sales people who use question to coral them? Get them to think. Not about their situation, their hip to that, they live it. Get them to think of their objectives, about the path forward, and the possibilities those objectives Open Up. To do that you need to demonstrate being a subject matter expert, and brave enough to explore the unknown, using question to find possibilities not limit them.

Being a subject matter expert does not mean being a “know it all”. But having enough knowledge, confidence and curiosity to help your buyer navigate uncharted territories to get to their objectives.

All those probing questions fall on deaf ears, they have heard it all before, the have been disappointed before. What they are looking for is a trusted advisor, again, that is not an oracle all knowing all saying, but someone with the skills and expertise to help them figure out how to bridge the gap between where they are now, and where they want their business to be.

Now when I say trusted advisor, I don’t mean their friend, or a relationship type, but someone who demonstrates enough expertise in the areas the buyer is trying to understand that they are willing to trust them enough to first take input then advice. You do not need to have a relationship to do that, you need to have and demonstrate expertise. You can do that and establish yourself as the go to source, as the one who can cut through the noise out there trying to bring them into a closed ended discussion, and you can become the supplier of choice long before the relationship that will evolve after.

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LOI – A More Effective ROI – Sales eXecution 3155

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Risk return

The challenge with Return On Investment or ROI calculations and calculators is that they are only truly effective with a small segment of buyers. Part of the challenge is that many of these calculations are based on the most idyllic circumstances, leading many to doubt the projected returns. Even for those who accept the projected benefits, they don’t always see how those will apply to them.

I remember in the late 1990’s, during the dot.com boom, my employer seized on a stat that showed that about 30% of white collar workers’ work time was spent searching for information they need to do their work. Based on this data, which completely lacked context, the number crunchers in marketing came up with a calculator where you can put in the number of white collar workers at your company, their average salary, and presto, instant profits and returns. If you had 100 employees making an average $60,000 per year, that’s $1,800,000 in savings right there. Wouldn’t you want to spend $250,000, just once so you can lock in that annuity? Even if the numbers were half accurate, still a great ROI; yet there were no lines around the block looking to buy the product.

Having an overly aggressive ROI calculation is more likely to be ignored and lead to a credibility issue than accelerate the sale in a way realistic calculation will. Remember most business people will take a reasonable say 5% uptick, while big numbers will seem unattainable or carry hidden and unnecessary risk.

The challenge is that most ROI calculations fail to drive action on the part of the buyer. One reason is they do not always align to buyers objectives, thereby failing to address the real issue, “what will I do with the ROI?” I remember watching a rep present the above ROI with great gusto. When he was done, one of the buyers asked “how can you ensure that the recaptured time would be put to company use and benefit, and not for an extra smoke or more time surfing the web?” Had the rep been able to demonstrate how the product would address that next step, there could have been a sale. But like many ROI calculations, they usually demonstrate a false affordability for the product, but not the return for, or impactful outcome for the business.

Without the alignment to objectives, and how the return is not in the form of dollar savings but objectives achieved, and the impact or return on those objectives, the ROI measure will continue to be a decorative piece. The sad part is that it would not take much to modify the calculation to reflect the above, and deliver actionable insight that drives positive results for buyer and seller.

Another overlook factor with traditional ROI’s is risk, most people are more likely to take action to avoid risk, than take action for a questionable return. Studies suggest that 70% of the population are ‘away’ people, meaning they will move away from risk. The remaining 30%, will move toward realistic risk for a measurable return on the risk.

Given this, it is probably better for sales people to spend time developing and presenting Loss On Inaction, or LOI calculations. Left to their own devices, people will usually opt “keeping on as is”. It is always easier to rationalise not doing anything, than doing even the slightest thing. Leaving you with one choice, raising the risk factor of where they are. You need that ‘away’ hormone to kick in, where level of risk crosses and rises above the line of inaction. Until then, the alternatives we offer are interesting but not compelling enough to drive action.

An LOI calculation can quantify and graphically demonstrate the risk and cost of inaction. That allows you to then initiate and facilitate the cycle, and as a bonus, when that gets started, you can still go back to your ROI, with much more impactful effect.

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Q&A at Plug and Play #video – Sales eXecution 3130

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

TV Head

In September I had the opportunity to meet with some up and coming companies at Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale.  After the meeting, I was asked to share some specifics about selling and our approach to driving value from prospecting call to growing your clients.  Take a look below, and feel free to reach out if anything strikes a chord or close to home.

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3 Reasons To Get Prospects to Look Back Drivers Future Sales2

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Now Past Future

People are creatures of habit, and while we do change over time, most often these are gradual and incremental evolutions, only occasionally radical and sudden change. There are several way this can help sellers perform better, not only in terms of quota, but helping clients achieve their objectives, leading to more business as a result.

The goal in this piece is not to compare one type of buyer to another, but to help you adjust your approach to better align with the buyer, their habits, and expectations to help you be more effective with the type of buyer at hand.

While there may be other reasons, here are three in no particular order, that if you incorporate into your sale, will help you achieve better results for all involved.

  • Propensity to change
  • Why they buy
  • How they buy/make decisions

Propensity – In the past we have spoken about the market breaking down to three general groups, buyers who are Actively looking, Passively looking, Not looking (status quo). No matter which group they are in, there will be different levels of willingness to change. Even in the Actively looking group there will be those who are looking because there are external factors forcing them in to the market, without those external factors they would be status quo. Others are always looking to be leading edge and are looking on their own volition. Clearly the latter have a greater propensity to change and act, while the former will require more reassurance, more motivation, and at times more work. Again more work is not a bad thing, it’s just good to know up front. Don’t forget, that some will never change and take pride on going down with the ship, which means it is OK to disqualify and move on.

Why – Once they do make the decision to act, you need to understand why they chose the product or supplier they chose having decided to act. This will give you a lot of insight not only about the individual but the organization. Was there decision tied to a specific set of objectives, and is that consistent across a number of decision, or was it a result of “Me Too” at play. If we extrapolate out from the technology adoption lifecycle, how we sell to buyers at the left end of the curve will tangibly differ from those on the right end. It doesn’t matter which methodology you use, knowing why the buyer has made the selections they have in the past will give you clear guidance as to how to align with their current purchase decision.

How – This should be the most straight forward, once they have decided to make a change, and are comfortable with the reasons as to why, how they go about things will help you maximize the current purchase. You will understand who is involved in decisions; here you want to look for names that may have popped up in the “WHY” discussion. How those same people relate, influence or ignore the individual you are working. It will also give you a clear picture as to how (sometimes if) the organization makes decisions. If in exploring the last three or four purchase decision they made involved specific steps, inputs, and people, you can bet that these will be present and required to get the decision you are looking for.

The key in all this is to do this sort of questioning early, when it can seem informal, not central or pertinent to anything specific at the time. The close you get to the decision point, the more layers there are and some buyers will not share as freely. Everyone’s posture changes, and the information that flows, and how it flows changes. It is never too early to gather the above, but there could be a point where it may be a bit too late.

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Their Only Pain is You6

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Ask a group of sales people what they want to know about their prospect, and the majority respond “I want to know about their pain or needs”. In theory a good concept, in practice highly over rated and ineffective. As discussed before, at any given time, only a small percentage of your total potential market is in play. The various estimates range from as low as 3% to 15%; so if we go with 10% for the sake of this piece, we are likely very generous. Of that 10%, almost all will recognise or admit to a need, and for some that need is in fact driven by or rooted in pain. So even when you perfect uncovering the pain and need, you are playing with a very narrow slice of opportunity. Not to mention a very visible and highly sought after slice, one that every sales person is pursuing, much like a lazy wild cat targets the weak of the herd.

A further 20% or so, don’t have an immediate pain or need, but they recognise that they will need to make a purchase decision 12 – 18 months out. Extremely good sales people, may be able to get a few of these folks to accelerate the need or heighten the pain, and thereby accelerate the purchase decision. But in the vast majority of instances, these people are future business, i.e. not this quota cycle. Having said that they are a good group to work with, as you have lots of runway to build a “relationship” and set yourself up as the obvious favourite when they going into buying mode.

This leaves the 70% plus, of the target market, the status quo, the complacent ones, the ones with no pain, no need, and no desire for a solution. Probing for pains or needs here gets the familiar “all set, we’re good, no need now, not interested” response; sometimes they’ll make you feel good and ask you to send them something. When was the last time you got paid for that?

For many of these buyers, the only immediate pain is the sales person sitting across from them, and the way that many of those sales people sell. While many pride themselves on having “evolved” from asking silly questions like “what keeps you up at night?” From the buyer’s stand point many of the techniques used by many are no better even though they changed the wrapping.

Some fall pray to pundits who will have them go in and try to “create” pain or make the buyer feel inadequate by asking things like “wouldn’t you agree that ….?” or “What would it be like if you could….? But buyers are hip, they see when you snap on the rubber gloves and “probe”.

One pain many buyers complain to me about is the complete unpreparedness they experience when meeting with reps. Rather than truly understanding the buyer, doing a bit of work in advance. Actually research the industry and current and future trends, how those impact the buyer’s company and the buyer, exploring more than just their social stream and LinkedIn profile. Absent pain, you need to look forward, the “value” you bring as a seller is helping the buyer face and win in that future, kicking them in the shin or higher brings a pain that does not lead to sales.

So if you want to use pain to win sales, it needs to be the “pain” of the effort you put into properly engaging a buyer who left to their own devices feels no pain, and is more like in search of something that will help them achieve their objectives, while avoiding the pain that is bad selling.

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Are Your Buyers Asking WTF?0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Sellers often have a distorted view of what is really important to buyers, leaving buyers to repeatedly ask WTF? Get your mind out of the gutter, the question is Why That Feature? Not what you’d be asking when the deal goes sideways, as it will if you are unable to nail the buyer’s WTF.

One thing that many executives and owners tell me regularly is that they are frustrated by some sales people’s inability to relate to the buyer’s perspective of things. As importantly, the incapability of sellers to have a fluid and malleable enough understanding of the products they sell to make it fit the buyer’s requirements, not just those of the selling organizations.

They feel that sellers come in and present features that may seem cool and useful to people in their own marketing group, or features someone in product development thought made sense. While some features may seem cool and useful to a developer, the same may not resonate with real world users. While secondary research may suggest a demand for a feature to the marketing group, it may not be top of mind for all buyers.

At times the disconnect is simply that buyers, especially executives are looking for specific outcomes, and don’t look at the product through functionality. One executive noted “I could care less how it does it, if it’s legal, and gets me what I want, that’s just fine!”

Sellers need to be able to relate aspects of the product to the buyer’s reality, and while there may be similarities in those realities, each buyer is just that different. Mat be it is only in terms of where they are in the buying cycle or as broad as market strategy. While everyone says that they are beyond feature/benefit in their sales approach, buyers tell me different. Sellers are still trying to bend the buyer to their feature, rather than highlighting how that feature gets the buyer to where they want to be.

Of course to do that, sellers need to be aware of what buyers are trying to achieve. And this is not more of something per minute, or faster processing, or social integration. It is more about something that starts with why, and ends with outcomes and impacts. The means are usually secondary.

Presentations where the seller filled with buzzwords still abound, as does communication from marketing. There is almost an expectation that the buyer will paint the same picture in response to single trigger word, as the seller or their marketing group did. Expecting buyers to come around to our view and our definitions just leads to more and harder work, a lot harder than changing the narrative to that of the buyer.

The same is true for unnecessary upgrades or changes in features that were working just fine. Change and new are not always better, especially if it change that was not driven by users/buyers. Users/paying customers don’t always see the same need for change as the developer. If it does not positively impact the buyer’s journey or ability to drive objectives, it is not a great feature or upgrade. These also lead buyer to ask Why That Feature, this not so much why do I need that (why do I wanna pay for that), but what was so bad about it that you had to change it.

Learn to speak with the buyer, not at the buyer, and avoid forcing them to ask WTF?

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Proactive Prospecting – Capitalizing on Sales Triggers (#webinar)0

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Proactive Prospecting – Capitalizing on Sales Triggers

Join us for this live Webinar full of actionable insights!
Thursday May 7, 1:00 pm Eastern

The best sales teams are proactive – looking for deals, but also creating opportunities. Using sales triggers is one great way to be in front of prospects when they need you most.

Once a trigger event has happened, you need to be ready – action stations! To capitalize on a sales trigger, you have to be on your game and engage the prospect.  Know just what to say, how and when to say it, and how to deal with the response (good or bad).

Attend this webinar to learn how to apply a proactive approach to converting triggers to engagements (especially if you pulled the trigger in the first place!)

Learn to:

  • Convert triggers to action
  • Engage potential buyers
  • Manage and leverage the most common objections
  • Deal with voice mail, referrals and more
  • How to sustain the momentum you gain from this webinar
Details and reg

The Power Of Impact Questions – Sales eXecution 2881

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

IQ

I know that we have been taught not to answer a question with a question, but at times you have no other means of redirecting the conversation. One of my favourite type of questions, are Impact Questions. Questions that go to the heart of the issue, challenge the assumptions of the other party, and allow you to redirect the conversation in a way that it revolves around elements that allow the buyer to explore issues in a way they hadn’t considered.

For Impact Questions to have maximum effect they need to have two attributes. Individually each of these are a bit uncomfortable for many sellers, together, they can cause a bit of anxiety, at times fear, I have even seen smoke rising out of some people’s ears, no worries, usually pundits, not card carrying sales people.

The first element of discomfort, is that Impact Questions are by design Closed Ended, ooh, freaky, I know. Everyone thought closed ended questions went eradicated years ago, (same guys who though cold calling was dead), but no, alive and well, and doing fine in the right circumstance. Let me clear, I understand the power and purpose for Open Ended Questions, but as with most things in good selling, it is not one vs. the other, but which makes more sense for the specific situation.

There are some critical moments during the sale when only a closed ended question make sense. Where a limited set of answers creates clarity for both the buyer and seller, and allows them both to focus in critical issues rather than the universe! These points are usually during the initial prospecting call, when the buyer needs to see the opportunity for a new paradigm, and during negotiations, when it helps to re-establish the value agreed to earlier.

The other difficulty with Impact Questions, is that they have to be built around actual impacts you and your company have been able to deliver to clients in similar scenarios as the current buyer, where you have been able to help them achieve critical business objectives. While this may sound straight forward, it takes work.

Ask a team of sales people to tell you what specific impact they have had on their client’s objectives, and most have difficulty answering. They are usually accustomed to exploring things from the filter of what they do, and how their clients use their offering. Few focus on outcome, usually because few sell to those who benefit from the outcome, most will sell to the users or implementers. But regardless of who you are selling to, directing the discussion to outcomes will always be an advantage for all involved. But many buyers have been conditioned either by their role or by their experiences with sales people to look at and talk about “how” we get there, not the “what happens after we get there”, the impact; hence Impact Question.

Combining these two elements in a specific and practiced way, will allow you to avoid certain traps in the buying process, and direct the conversation to where you can actually deliver a win-win, helping both you and the client achieve key objectives.

Tibor Shanto

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