Clouds in shape of question marks

Answers Are Only As Good As The Question0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Communication, which at the core selling/buying is, will always be a mutual exercise, which why monologues work well in theater, but not in delivering revenue or quota. As such, a bit of forethought and focusing on how you’ll choreograph the sales are important. Which is why it is that much more noticeable to all, including buyers, when the effort is just not there in how sellers choose to engage and carry on a sales interview or conversation.

“I may make you feel but I can’t make you think”

Sellers need to put more effort into planning their interactions with prospects than many do. This needs to be on two levels, first the areas or topics they choose focus on, second the kind of questions they ask. Sellers forget that their prospect is talking to a range of people about the purchase they are about to make. If the questions I ask, the areas I choose to explore and drill down on, are no different than the three or four or eight other vendors they are speaking with, then the selection and decision will go back to the same old, usually the lowest common denominator, moderated by price (the lowest price).

Areas of Focus – Too often too many sellers start from the erroneous assumption that their buyer has their act together, know exactly what they want, and all that is left is to pick a product. That is a false premise, and as such leads to longer sales cycles and missed sales. While anecdotally we always knew that buyers are not as together as they sometimes appear, or sellers believe, the data is now in. Some will see this as good news, allowing them as sellers to bring more value to the conversation by helping buyers in ways much more meaningful than features and price. Sellers have the benefit of having worked with many buyers with similar experiences, allowing the perceptive ones to see themselves not as product reps, but conduits to others’ experiences, good and bad. The value they can bring is in helping buyers better understand what they are dealing with, and their best option, not options, in addressing those specifics.

Even if a prospect has advanced past the stage of deciding what they want to do and how, sellers benefit from starting “back” there, before moving to asking questions about how they plan to address things, i.e. product. Retracing a little, will show them as being different, and will also help the seller understand the buyer’s thought process, which may allow for more unique input, and to demonstrate they are different and truly “buyer centric”, by not jumping to product right away.

What we Ask – The kind of question go a long are key. You have to assume that you are the fifth sales person they spoke to that day; how will you make a different impression than the four who went before you?

If you ask the same as them, what will they base their selection on? If you reinforce perceptions rather than challenge them, are you not telling the buyer to base it on price and emotion?  Your questions are not just about the response, they need to get them to think, think beyond where they are now, and where the other sellers have taken them.

If they can answer your question without thinking, you’re in trouble! But many sellers I meet are afraid of asking questions that put the prospect on the spot. Remember the goal here is not to embarrass the prospect, but to help  them really think through the issue before they commit, whether they commit to you or another. I worked with one sales pundit who felt asking the prospect “Why” questions were not cricket as it may stump the buyer. Well if you can “stump” the buyer, it is evidence that they have not thought things through, and you are doing them a favour.

Getting an answer is easy, getting an answer that moves the process forward in a way that helps buyers is not. Which why the answers can only be as good or productive as the questions.

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Question Direction

Questioning The Path You Are On0

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

The fate of an unscheduled call to a prospect, a cold call, is determined in the first few seconds of a call, one can argue even before that. By before that, I mean the hundreds if not thousands of practice calls the prospect has had to hone their craft and perfect their means of blowing us off. One can argue that the callers, the sales people have also had the opportunity to practice; true, but there is practice with a goal and purpose in mind. For example, the prospect, has the singular purpose of blowing the interruption, and every call they get is an opportunity to practice, unless the caller does something different.

Unfortunately, sales people make it easy by conforming to basic elements of calls that accelerate the outcome, allowing the prospect to get back to what they were doing, and the seller to be frustrated, and use it as an excuse to reaffirm their belief that cold calling does not work. The solution, is changing the way one makes the call. Unless we change the path or direction of the call, we risk falling into a familiar pattern that the prospect has practiced hundreds/thousands of time. Given that sales people do not like to practice, review the “game tapes” and make adjustments, the prospect will always have an upper hand.

Everything counts, right from the first breath, which means it has to be counter to expectations, especially those of the prospect at the other end. Starting with a rambling introduction about your company, and who you are, is just setting yourself up for failure. I mean really, does it make a difference to the prospect that you are the Mid-Atlantic Key Account Executive? I am sure your wife or mother or both are really proud. You know what the prospect thinks, “Add another title and notch to my belt.” As I have said before start with the outcomes first, outcomes tied to their objectives, and impacts you have delivered for others with similar objectives. Start with the ending, the outcome, the impact they will see in reaching their objectives, and those impacts on their business. It’s even worse when it comes to handling objections.

Most think that handling objections is somewhat like a tennis match, the prospect lobs their objection over the net, and we have to lob it back. No! If you want to change the path and direction of the call, the objection, then you need to not fall into the pattern set by the prospect to accelerate the end of the call.

Question DirectionInstead of just lobbing back a response to their objection, keep it, and throw back a question instead. In the above tennis example the prospect is in control of the flow, and therefore the outcome. One way to wrestle control away, and more importantly change the path or direction of the call is to ask a question. Questions demand answers, there is no law that they have to answer, but condition, especially social conditioning tends to kick in, and they will answer. Questions get people to think, when their mind is racing to get past the call, a good question related to something they were thinking about before the call, like their objectives, will get them to slow down, focus, and usually provide an answer.

We call these Impact Questions, for two reasons. One is that most are closed-ended, so we needed to do some rebranding. More importantly is that because they relate to specific impacts on their business, they have a direct impact on the prospecting call.

It is important to remember that what we are working with here are dynamics, including flow and momentum. You need to fine tune your listening skills, not for words, but all the other things going on in the call, think of it as nuance. When you ask a good question, not every prospect will answer the same way, giving you an opening to ask for engagement. But they will all pause, a momentary break as they digest the question, and process that indeed it does relate to them, and not just another walking brouchure on the phone.

Impact Questions, strategically place in a prospecting call, as part of the intro, as part of the reason to meet, and certainly as part of the taking away objections, will help you change the direction of a call, a sales meeting. If you find yourself on a path leading to a brick wall, use Impact Questions to change the direction, the outcome, and the health of your pipeline.

We’ll be looking at some specific use of Impact Questions, and objections in the monthly edition the Pipeline, sign up here.

faceless businessmen standing on the green grass and holding placard with question mark

Are You Asking The Right Questions The Wrong Way?4

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

How you ask a question will make a big difference in how it is answered, and the impact that has on your ability to move the process forward, get stuck, or even lose deals. There are some basic communication rules and practices, that when leveraged right can make a big difference.

Sales people often squander the opportunity to take the conversation in a specific direction. For example, how we initiate a conversation, the first question we ask, will directly dictate the nature of the response, and the subsequent topics that will come into the discussion. Whether it is cold call, or the start of a face to face meeting, we, sales people are likely kick things off, and as a result, be in a good position to steer the conversation. This is not done to limit the prospect’s input, but to ensure that the conversation is relevant to both.

This goes beyond just what question you ask, but how you ask the question. Remember that people have different habits, some will not only answer the question you pose, but expand, going into related issues, and provide way more information than solicited. Others will answer you with short specific answers, little more than data, and not volunteering anything other than what was asked, even when it could be extremely relevant.

Another factor is where we are in the cycle. Early in the cycle reps tend to stick close to the process, ensuring all the bases are covered, and that they are maximizing their opportunity to move things forward. As we get comfortable with the prospect(s), around mid-cycle or later, the situation seem more familiar, some may say (erroneously) more predictable, some loosen on the process, and allow for unnecessary risk.

Here is a simple example, one likely to come up in sales with multiple stakeholders, specifically when a new person (variable) is introduced into the mix. We have all had this, we show up to a meeting, expecting the usual players, assuming we have sent an agenda, we have an idea of where the meeting will go, and we are building on momentum.

But along with the usual crew, a new person is in attendance. They look like a senior stakeholder with the ability to sway the others. While most of the time they will introduced with their title, and potentially what they bring to the meeting, most sales people still want to know more, and why they are there.

Time after time the question that sales people ask at this point is the wrong one. They will turn the person in question and ask: “Has Jenny brought you up-to-date on our discussion to date?” Good question, will usually get answered, and in most cases the sales rep is not any better informed, or in a better position to understand how to best proceed. The individually could answer in full honesty, “Yes she has, I have seen the material, and she has told me what to expect today.” Sounds good, but I would argue we still don’t have a clear picture or knowledge of what Jenny may have to them. It could be what you hope, or it could be the opposite; the question asked was answered, but not necessarily informative, leaving you exposed.

The question they should ask is “Thanks for taking the time to join us today, before we get going, can you please take a minute and let me know what Jenny has told you about our journey to date?” While they may not be completely open or detailed, they will have to tell you what Jenny has shared, which puts you in a much better spot. You can follow up on some things, correct any misunderstandings, ask them to summarize how that fits in with their specific objectives, and more.

From the buyer’s perspective, it is more or less the same question, but the latter puts you in a much more informed and better position to progress the sell. Even if there are negative repercussions to the answer, it is better to work from a position of knowledge than a vacuum of information and related options.

There are other examples, your goal is to not only understand why you are asking a question, but to ask it in a way that moves you towards the outcomes you need to win the opportunity.

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d-orsay-clock_3

The Power of Why > How – Part 20

Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Monday I wrote about the power of the Why > How one-two punch.  Rather than doing the conventional probing around the decision process, who is involved, what are the steps, are there steps defined or is it ad-hock, etc.  Ask anyone if they are the ones to make the decision, and they’ll likely say yes, ask about Why and How the current vendor was selected, and you may find a different scenario, with additional and at times more important players that will have to be engaged to get the decision you want.  But that’s just the start, you can leverage Why > How, in a more granular way to give you further insights about the buyer, their organization, and how to adjust your execution to achieve success.

First is across time.  Look to the past, present and future.  Looking to the past will not only tell how they do things, people don’t change dramatically.  How they bought software last year or the year before, unless there is an entirely new crew, in which case exploring their past will still provide visibility to how they do things.  Assuming the players have not changed, exploring the past will give you a clear picture as to their propensity to change.  If they have continuously lagged the market in adopting new technologies, if they are still sitting back wait for cloud computing to be validated, you need to adjust your sales approach accordingly, at times even to the point of moving on and revisiting the opportunity in the future.  At the other end are innovators and early adopters, where they are on Moore’s curve will dictate how you execute and win them as a client.

Exploring the future, especially when that exploration is through the prism of their business will also dictate execution.  If they have clear objectives, aligned around elements of their business and how they look to grow it, it will make your sale easier, perhaps easier is the wrong word, more like ‘straight forward’.  Assuming their plans make sense you can focus on helping them achieve them.  If they have clear objectives but have chosen a less than optimal means of achieving them, then you need to first get them to consider alternatives.  Why > How, will help you to get them to change course, preaching is ineffective, but a series of “Why that?”, “How will that look?” questions will help you to get them to look at things differently, and from there to look at different things.

The other plain that Why > How will help is by exploring both the individual you are speaking to, and the Why’s > How’s of their organization.  This is especially important when there are multiple stakeholders or decision makers.  This helps in aligning personal agendas with corporate objectives, this can help you create alignment among the players by focusing on common elements, of each of the individuals, and those of the company.  Minimize differences, especially when not critical to the project, and build on overlap and common elements that you can enhance by virtue of you experience and past success.

I know there are some sales pundits out there who are afraid of the word Why, and would rather have you wait for a random event to trigger your success.  I say take control of your success by asking Why > How, early and often.

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key3

A One > Two Combination That Still Delivers Sales1

Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Much of the discussion around social selling vs. traditional selling, or even old school selling like cold calling, has distracted many from the central issue, successful selling. When was the last time someone congratulated you on landing a big account and asked you “BTW, Ann, did you use social or other selling to win this deal?”. It is more likely that someone would ask about the steps and techniques that could be repeated to deliver similar results consistently.

There is one tried and true approach, that when executed properly can help you and the buyer in a number of ways to come to the right decision in a shorter and less painful time frame and atmosphere. No magic or silver bullet, but a series of questions framed around two simple words and concepts:

  • Why
  • How

Using these two in a one – two combination helps you resolve a number of potential hurdles but avoid some as well.

One common example is when you have worked a sale in accordance to your process. You have interviewed the buyer(s), qualified them, understood their objectives, and then validated them for good measure. You deliver your proposal, expecting to have some discussion, shall we call this ritual “negotiations”, leading to a decision (preferably a buy decision, but at times any decision will do). Only to be told that they need to take it to someone who has not been part of the process to date (owner, boss…). None of us can pretend this has not happened to us. Using the Why > How early in the cycle can reduce or eliminate this, but only if you leave the product out of it, and focus on the buyer’s objectives; and by buyer, I am talking about the individuals and the collective organization.

Start by asking Why they chose the product or process now in place. No pre-bias or agenda, just an honest question as to “why that”? If they are able to clearly articulate why they chose the product/provider, and this should be in detail, and that means you needing to be ready with a number of follow-through questions in order to fully explore specifics. What were they trying to achieve, why didn’t like some of the common alternatives? Why automate instead of outsource? Why on premise vs. cloud? Go deep, don’t just skim the surface. Many will be able to provide answers that are really talking points, but to get real answers, answers that give insight into the situation and the person’s role in the situation, you will need to have at least three follow up questions.

  • Why that objective?
  • How do they measure that?
  • Upside of achieving the objective
  • Implications of a miss; etc.

If they can go into detail about these, contrasting the choices they had to deal with and why they landed where they did, then you are more likely dealing with someone who was involved in the decision, vs. someone who cannot, and therefore was not likely core to the decision, clear signal you’ll need to engage someone else, and now.

Along with the Why questions, you need to introduce How questions. “Great, I understand why you went with that route (product service, provider, etc.), tell me How you went about selecting Vendor X?” The goal here is to get a step by step of the How, giving you a window into how they make decisions. Again, if they can detail How the decision was made, you’re in the right place heading in the right direction. If not, and it is clear that they were secondary in the process, then it is clear that you need to engage others. The goal is to do this really early in the discovery phase, where curiosity and interest are rewarded with information, especially as the questions you are asking relate to them, but provide you with multi level insights.

Again, if you are ready with your follow through questions, then you will also be in a position to learn who was involved in the decision, and is likely necessary to get a decision now.  The great thing is that once you make this Why > How combo part of your routine, you’ll discover that it is a very conversational and inclusionary approach, where buyers are allowed to reflect and share info rather than interrogating or pitching.

They Why > How works on almost any element of the sale, but it does require practice and preparation. In the next post, we’ll go deeper and wider with this proven and easily implemented one-two punch.

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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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What’s Your Question? – Sales eXchange 2150

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

iStock_000004159256XSmall

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

Are You Selling Like A Child?10

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

Child with PC asking

Maybe You Should!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

You Should Lead With Price – Sales eXchange 2072

By Tibor Shantotibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca

change

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

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

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

Well, why not lead with price?

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

This is not to say that your meetings should start:

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Your Pipeline?
Tibor Shanto

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

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