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NorthStar Performance Partners, LLC | Minneapolis, MN
 

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Questioning

My message for sales professionals is simple: You’re a consultant, so behave like one. That means asking the right questions… then asking more questions … and even more questions …. until you fully understand what the buyer needs to be able to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

Here are some of the key questions we coach salespeople to be prepared to ask in the initial phases of a conversation with a prospect.

As a sales leader, there’s a simple way to help the salesperson check their beliefs when they are potentially getting in the way (head trash).

Carlos was in a great mood. Forty minutes in, the meeting with his top prospect’s senior staff was going great. He was getting nothing but engagement, smiles, and positive body language from everyone around the table, including the CEO of the company.

Mike Montague interviews Wayne Dehn on How to Succeed at Overcoming Childhood Messages.

 

Mike Montague interviews Dan Stalp on how to succeed at redirecting prospects’ head trash. 

 

Vincent’s closing numbers were not what he had been hoping for. He asked his manager, Lynnette, what she thought the problem might be. After a little role-playing, Lynnette suggested that Vincent was spending too much time selling “from inside a box.”

Marina was having some problems with the opening phases of her sales process. Her early discussions with prospects were rarely productive. She sat down with Fred, her manager, and did some role-playing in the hope of improving her interviewing technique.

What’s the quick one-word answer you come up with to that question? Many of you named your product or service, others may have said quality, my expertise or me. I believe what every prospect buys is confidence. Both yours and theirs.

Whether it is time for a touch-point call or you’re visiting a new prospect for the first time, incorporating one or more of these phrases into your approach could be a deal killer.

What happens when prospects ask your price upfront before you’ve discussed any aspect of the business? Are they just shopping around, or maybe they don’t see a difference between you and the competitive product?

Jim had been working on a big deal for four months. Before he gave his presentation, his sales manager asked, “Is this prospect qualified?” Jim answered “Yes” with total confidence. The next day, however, he learned that a competitor had gotten the deal – because of a very recent change in his contact’s buying priorities. Jim hadn’t picked up on this change.

I believe that every prospect eventually buys because of the credibility of the salesperson. In the traditional world, salespeople believe they develop credibility by ‘telling.’ They ‘show up and throw up.’ It’s all about their product, their features, and benefits.

There’s only one person who is qualified to handle a prospect’s stalls and objections, and it’s not the salesperson. It’s the prospect. If stalls and objections frequently come up in your sales calls, it’s a good idea to bring them up before the prospect has the opportunity.

Referrals and introductions should be central to building a quality pipeline for our business. However, in my research, most of us are leaving up to 75% of the available referrals and introductions on the table. Most of us get referrals and introductions even if we do not ask.

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about an interesting sales situation he encountered. He and his wife attended a Home and Garden show. They discussed ahead of time that they wanted to get concrete borders around their yard and hoped to walk out of the show with a company selected to do the job. 

Jane was having problems uncovering accurate information during her discussions with prospects. Her conversations during sales calls tended to be unfocused, and she spent a lot of time pursuing options that her prospects ended up rejecting. Her manager suggested she try something called Negative Reversing.

Sales is a high-rejection business, so we generally tend to be overly optimistic. When a customer says things like, “I like this a lot”, “This is what I’ve been looking for”, or “I love this stuff”, we automatically believe we’re on the way to a sale. Time for a reality check.

Tim, a new sales hire, was having trouble setting appointments. Miguel, his sales manager, wanted to know why. After just a little one-on-one role-play, one of Tim’s challenges became clear. During his discussions with potential business partners, Tim was focusing almost exclusively on the features of what his company offered.

Why do people buy milk or bread or cereal or soda at the gas station convenience store when those items are far less expensive at a grocery store? Obviously, they have a need for the items. More importantly, buying at the convenience store is quick, and you guessed it, convenient. 

June is Effective Communications Month. With that fact in mind, consider the following cautionary tale for salespeople. Will, a new salesperson, had just begun a face-to-face meeting with Maria, the CEO of a big company that Will’s manager would have dearly loved Will to close.

1. You will fail to establish credibility during the initial phone call or meeting. The primary questions looming in the minds of prospects when they first talk with salespeople are, “What do you know about my company?” and “What do you know about my industry?”

Ken’s closing ratio had been the lowest on the team for four months running. Juanita, his manager, asked him to meet with her privately so they could figure out, together, what the possible obstacles to better performance might be.

Betty’s quarterly numbers were low. Her manager, Milt, asked her to do some role-plays so they could identify potential areas for improvement. They spent about 20 minutes roleplaying through various scenarios – at which point Milt called a time-out and asked...

Learning to ask compelling questions is better than learning to say great things. This statement can be true in a lot of circumstances. The foundation of effective communication is impeccable listening and questioning skills. Never is this truer than in business development.

There's something to be said about children who continue to ask "why" about everything. When they ask and you respond, and they ask "Why?" again, it means they don't have the complete answer to their question. They will continue to ask until they understand the entire concept or until the adult gets frustrated. In business, asking "Why?" five times can produce the same quality understanding to prepare for better results. Common complaints we hear often in business:

All too frequently, salespeople schedule appointments...and then forget about them until the day before the scheduled dates. Do you? Is preparation a last-minute activity often consisting of nothing more than a quick review of the notes from the original phone conversations when the appointments were scheduled...and perhaps a review of the prospects' web sites, advertising, or marketing materials? Can you answer the following questions about your next prospect appointment

Salespeople could significantly increase their earnings if they stopped saying and believing "I know why."

Prospects like to play games with salespeople. The purpose of games prospects play is to make a salesperson feel not-OK. When a salesperson feels not-OK in front of a prospect, they are more likely to give up their time and information in the hope that their prospect will make them feel OK again. Some of the games prospects play with salespeople are: Why Don't You, Yes But - your prospect rejects every one of your suggestions with some version of "yes, but" (e.g. "we'd love to implement option A, but our budget was cut last week.")

The two words that are guaranteed to trip up most sales people are "better" and "value." The latter we'll talk about in another post. Typically the "better" trap is set by a prospect at the beginning of a meeting. After introductions and polite conversation your prospect says, "so tell me how you are better than my current supplier." If your instinct is to jump to a features-and-benefits presentation, STOP! There is no way for you to answer that question and have any chance of closing the sale. There are three reasons why your prospects set the "better" trap

Why do we think that by asking a question we'll hurt the prospect's feelings? What you need to remember is that that you are not responsible for how a prospect reacts to a question that you ask. Clients share with me daily the questions they've avoided asking for fear of upsetting the prospect. Sometimes they get frustrated with themselves because they feel they lost a sale or an opportunity of a sale because they lacked the guts to ask questions. They would rather bite their tongue than ask a question that they think might make the prospect uncomfortable

Acronyms, industry buzz-words, technical jargon — we've all used them at one point or another in our jobs. But if you've been using them when you're first getting to know your prospect, you may have made a big mistake.

We don't ordinarily think of sales as one of the "helping professions," but maybe we should. People tell their problems to psychologists and clergymen. They pour out their hearts to their neighborhood bartender. But they tell their troubles to sales professionals, too, so we should develop our "helping profession" skills. I have often noticed, when a sales pitch is going well, how the conversation resembles what I understand a therapeutic session to be like. That is the way it should be, if the salesperson knows what he or she is doing