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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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A Super Question You Should Use4

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

In the past I had written about the fact that your sales process and the way you or your team execute that process is most likely the last real way of differentiating yourself from your competition. I think by now we can all agree that product is rarely the deciding factor; and when it is, it is usually driven by price, regardless of what marketing is smoking. With all due respect and deference to product designers, engineers, marketing and branding folks, when you look at it in the cold light of day, there is not that much difference in the top two products in most categories. What many will tout as being different, is more subjective than data or fact based. With 85% – 90% feature overlap, one may be able to spin the benefits a bit, but if products could sell themselves, I’d be writing a different blog. As with beauty or value (or some tell me), difference is often in the eye of the beholder.

So what can you do to sound or be different when selling. There is a whole bunch of things, but I think the easiest lies in the questions you ask. And among the many questions you can and should ask, there is one I like because it is easy to answer, sets you apart from many, you will learn a whole bunch of useful things, and despite its high octane, it has no risk, all upside.

What’s the question you ask? (Sorry I just had to) Here it is:

“What is the one thing you have always wanted from a supplier like me (us), but have never had anyone do, or deliver?

Many I present this question to are first taken aback. They say, “what if they come up with something we can’t do or deliver?” There is only one answer to that: who cares?

By definition they have not gotten this from anyone, just look at the question. The fact that you can’t do it, does not put you in a bad light. Let’s go to extremes, say they want to go to Mars, first class with kosher meals, no one can do that, so there is no downside.

In a more conventional setting, say they come up with something you can’t do, you don’t look any worse than the others, but there is upside. You can explore why they are looking for that specific thing. That will give you great insight about the buyer, and more importantly their objectives. In most cases you get bonus points for trying.

By understanding what they are trying to achieve, you may be able to offer an alternative means of achieving the very thing, but in a different way. Most buyers are focused on achieving their objectives, few will get hung up on the means, if you get them there, you get the glory.

What you’ll also find is that at times you can in fact deliver what they respond with, or something so close, it will satisfy the requirement. In this case asking the question has nothing but upside, you win the deal, the client, and referrals to follow. Those referrals are likely to focus more on how you sold them and met their expectations than product.

There is no safer question in sales. All upside, no downside. Try it, it’s a gas.

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What is Not Why – Sales eXecution 3261

By Tibor Shanto – tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca 

Start of the year is when you see a lot of policy changes, changes in fees, service levels etc. Done right this could actually help sales people and drive revenues, yes even price increases. Done wrong, it just leaves a bad flavour in people’s mouth and minds. Having had to face new fees and policies, I have come to observe that there is a missing element in how sales people, and I would argue all who interface with clients in any way, deal with change. More specifically, how their companies fail to prepare these front line assets, and as a result lose customers and revenues in the process.

My experiences recently did not relate to price, but how and why the changes were implemented.

Example one, I recently went to renew a service I had been using for over 20 years. This was different, this time I was a fee, that in both relative and absolute terms was more than excessive. Needing the service, I hummed and hawed, but paid the ransom, and given that I was paying for the party, I asked “why is this fee in place now, and why this amount?” The representative responded “When you renew you have to pay $180.” I repeated, “OK, I get it, $180, why, why do I have to pay this when I never had to pay it in the past, I don’t seem to be receiving anything over and above or different than in the past, so why the additional $180 now, I understand the what I have to pay, but I would like to understand WHY?” I am still waiting for the answer.

I don’t really blame the “Representative Drone 100 Model”, they were programed to collect, but they should have given the Drone the ability to explain why, even a couple of plausible explanation. Even if I disagreed with the “why” it would have seemed lass a money grab and more a function of their business.

This type of disconnect and apparent ignorance, plagues many sales people and organizations. They are great at talking to clients about what their product does, how it does it, often in great and irrelevant detail. But when it comes to why, as in why do I need this, why will this make a difference for me, and a whole range of important why’s, there are few answers. The buyer is left to figure it out on their own; the rep feels that they have done their job by laying out the dots, and assume that the buyer will connect it on their own. I guess you can look at your close ratio and margins to see how well that is working.

Sure some buyers will connect the dots because they have to, they have an immediate need or medium term need that they know they have to deal with, and as a result will make the effort to meet the seller more than half way. But this is a small portion of your market, for most 20% – 30%, leaving some 70% without a clear need and therefore a complete lack of inclination to make the effort.

For this large segment it is all about the ‘Why’. As a seller we need to not only make sure that the dots align to their objectives, not as visible as pain or need, and heavy on the ‘Why’ of how this will impact their business. Their ‘need’ is to achieve objectives, if you can’t explain why they will not be able to achieve it without your offering, or why your offering will enhance their objectives and their journey, they really have no reason to speak to us. Which is may be why their pipeline is in the state it is in.

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