Sales Prospecting Perspectives is pleased to bring you a guest post from John Jantsch, a marketing consultant, speaker, and the acclaimed author of several bestselling books. This post is an excerpt of his most recent book, Duct Tape Selling: Think Like A Marketer.
The following questions are useful to have ready in every sales situation. The right question, posed at the right time, can demonstrate you truly understand the challenge, get a sales presentation back on track or simply allow you to check in on how a prospect is feeling.
Can we get specific?: One of the most important things you can do is to figure out what a client really wants to know when they ask you a question. Many times they don’t know how to be specific. So they might say, “Tell me about your products” when they really want to know if you test your products against a specific defect that they discovered in their current supplier’s product.
Be prepared to redirect a broad line of questioning for more detail. Ask “Can we get specific? Is there anything particular you would like to know about our products?” You can always move off of this stance, but more times than not, the person you’re questioning will answer in a way that helps you understand what’s going on in their worldview.
Is there a specific question?: Have you ever had a prospect ramble on about what’s wrong with everything in their company and perhaps the world as a whole, only to then stop and ask you to solve it? The challenge with trying to sell into this situation is that it’s a lot like trying to wade through a pond without any idea how deep the water is. Try flipping the script back to the prospect or client, by posing a question like “What specifically would you like me to address?” It’s the only way you’re going to get them to focus on the matter at hand. Instead of trying to frame your answer to respond to a giant problem, ask them to break it down for you.
Why is that a problem?: Again, many times people will tell you all about what they perceive as problems without shedding any light on what it’s costing them or why they want to solve it. Your job is see if they can articulate the situation for you. If they aren’t motivated by this question, or can’t answer it clearly, they won’t be motivated or ready to solve it either.
What does that mean?: The moment your prospect starts throwing around clichés and industry buzzwords, call them out by asking them to explain that jargon in layman’s terms. If they’re using “synergy” for example, ask them “What would synergy look like in this case?” This will force the client or prospect to clarify their understanding of their language and actually link it to their own business. Further, if you truly don’t understand something a prospect is explaining, ask them to go deeper. Most people actually love to explain what they do and you’ll look good for listening closely enough to actually know when to ask those questions.
How do you measure success?: Often a salesperson is out selling a product or solution on the basis that its good for the prospect, without knowing how the prospect is measuring what’s good for them. When you understand what a buyer’s objectives are and how they are measured, you can frame your value in those terms. This is a tricky one as sometimes it’s not that obvious. Many times, a buyer is mostly concerned with the things that show up on their annual review and you’ll benefit from understanding that.
Let’s say your software can save front line folks over 40 minutes a day and you know that could add up to substantial savings on labor costs. But your prospect isn’t that worried about labor cost savings because his big goal this year is to increase employee satisfaction. Do you think that might be useful to know?
What is the purchasing process in your organization?: Probably the most important line of questioning in many situations centers on the buying process. Your prospect may not have the ability to reveal all of the layers and hoops, but you better understand what their role is as a buyer, especially if they are part of a larger organization.
How does that make you feel?: If you get your prospects to reveal how they feel about a problem or potential opportunity, you then hold a measure of emotional control in a sales situation. At the very least, this question will give you a gauge on the importance of the situation. If they don’t seem to be too concerned with a solution, they may not be as far along in the buying process, for example. If they react strongly—with anger, or fear—to a certain problem, however, that’s a clear sign that your value will come in helping them figure out a useful solution and quickly.
What would you do if this were solved?: Problems and challenges take people away from the things they are much more excited about. Figuring out what a potential buyer would rather do than solve a given problem gives you some insight into what’s important to them.
What did we agree to today?: Always reconfirm commitments of any kind at the end of every meeting. Will you be scheduling a new meeting with them, or sending over a proposal based on today’s conversation? If you agree to send a proposal, do some initial factfinding or forward some research as soon as you get back to the office. Of course you’ll want to restate any commitment the prospect makes as well.
You won’t use all of these questions all of the time, but you need to have them ready for the changing situations you find yourself in. Great questioning skills and the ability to interpret the answers you hear is one of the core differentiators that top sales guides possess over others.
Start with one or two questions that help you get started in almost every situation. Play with them, get comfortable, and then add some more.
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