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Impact Questions0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Proactive Prospecting Summer – Part 7

Questions can be a powerful tool in prospecting, just as in other stages of the sale. In this portion of the Proactive Prospecting Summer, we look at using questions in a different way in prospecting than we would later with an engaged buyer.

Take a look, and leave you response in the comment area below.

Don’t forget, you can take the on-demand version of the Proactive Prospecting Program available on-line at Sales Gravy University.

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.

Tibor Shanto    LI Bottom banner

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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It’s Your Job To Lead – Sales eXecution 2530

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Leading

No, I am not speaking to sales managers, directors or VP’s, but directly and specifically to front line sales professionals. It is your job to lead the customer to the right decision for their business based on their objectives. So why are you not stepping up, why are abdicating the only thing that justifies the job, why aren’t you doing your job?

Your job is to deliver the best solution or product to address the buyer’s requirements, which are driven by their objectives, often both business and personal objectives. While the buyer most often best knows their objectives, I say most often, because there are times where your input or influence can help fine tune or redefine those objectives based on elements you introduce into the dialog. The whole thing pivots on your ability and credibility as a subject matter expert.

I have argued on this blog the best sales people are those who are real subject matter experts, not product experts as many strive to be. As a subject matter expert you bring a number of value points that the buyer will make use of, and benefit from, that “product experts” will lack. This is why I encourage sales leaders to abandon their habit of hiring only sellers with product knowledge over candidates that may not have direct product experience but are truly qualified sellers, one qualification being the willingness to look beyond product, and embrace being an expert. One of the things the expert seller doe swell, and product sellers don’t, is become conduits of best practices.

What these sellers understand is that buyers want a perspective of what is happening in the market. What is working, what is not, what is new, and what is fading, what are others doing? I am not suggesting sharing details of what their direct competitor is doing, what is setting the winners apart from the also-rans. They also understand that often buyers are set in their ways and will need to be lead to new ways of looking at things, which sometimes means taking a stance that contradicts buyers’ premises and ways of thinking; to out and out change buyers’ views and ways of achieving their objectives. To do this you have to lead, you have to be someone they are a willing to have contradict them, someone they are willing to follow to places they have not been willing to go in the past.

When I present to sales people, many respond with a sad and often sickening response, “Oh, I don’t want to be pushy”. Pushy? There is a world of a difference between pushy and conviction. The conviction of an expert willing to share and make sure that the buyer truly achieves what they set out to do, even they do it in a different way than they set out or had ever considered.

Getting to the point where this conviction is justified is not that difficult, as with other elements of sales success, it is about the willingness to go there, and execution. Start by focusing on the buyers’ objectives, understand all the ways that can be achieved, not just those your product can do. Then leave your product in the car, and go and have a peer to peer discussion among experts, the buyer an expert in his/her business, you the expert in best practices around that.

Hey, if you liked what you, have invite me to speak at your next meeting!

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto 

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

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

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