Most salespeople believe that they have the greatest ability to sell and to influence a deal in their direction during their final presentation. Simply put, they are wrong.
The time that you have the best opportunity to really sell and to really advance your opportunity is at the beginning of your sales cycle and the beginning of your dream client’s buying cycle.
Your Strongest Tool
The best tool that you will ever have to help you to generate interest, to create value, to prove your business acumen, to verify that you are the right person to hire, and to advance a deal in your direction are the questions that you ask.
Your most powerful tools are not, as some salespeople believe, the statements that you make. The statements that you make about your company are irrelevant and worthless outside of the context of your dream client’s wants, their needs, and their vision.
You know this to be true.
I’ll bet you have a slide deck that is jam-packed and full of all the statements and evidence that you and your company hung the moon and the stars in the sky. But, if you are like many other salespeople, you don’t have anywhere near the quantity or quality of questions in your repertoire as you do statements, and you may not have even spent any time thinking about just how meaningful questions are to your sales results.
If you would be effective in sales, if you would be great, then make a list of power questions.
You Are Your Questions
Face it, your market is crowded with “me too” salespeople who are all touting the same set of features and benefits. If you are going to differentiate yourself and your offering and pull yourself out of the pack, you have to ask better questions—not make better statements.
Your questions will differentiate you if they do a couple of things for you. First they have to demonstrate that you have the business acumen and the situational knowledge to be a value creator. You don’t create value by making statements, you create value by helping your dream client think about their business in a way that helps them improve, and that helps them to take the actions that help them improve. This is most powerfully and most effectively accomplished through questions.
Your questions also work to differentiate you if they cut straight to the matter at hand. Your dream client opportunity exists because there is a certain level of dissatisfaction. If you are willing to ask the real questions that need asked, if you are going to deal with all of the impediments, obstacles, roadblocks, and constraints that stand between your dream client and their desired result, you will go a long way towards both differentiating yourself and being perceived as a value-creator.
The partner and business manager your dream client is hiring isn’t afraid to dig in and do the heavy lifting that must be done to make the change initiative succeed and the to help with a transformation.
Make a List, Baby
Asking questions not only serves you well from the perspective of differentiation, credibility, and influence. Asking the right questions at the right time will help you to advance your opportunity through the buying process (and by doing so, your sales process).
If your buyer is satisfied, then you need to make a list of the questions that will move them from satisfied to dissatisfied. My friend and partner, David Brock, wrote this piece today asking “What Conversations Are You Starting.” Your dream clients may not know that they should be dissatisfied.
Many more will have been through a number of your competitors, struggled to achieve the result that they really needed and, therefore, lowered their standards. Asking the right questions can help identify the areas of dissatisfaction that can make a difference in creating an opportunity for you by identifying the areas that you can help your dream client produce a better result.
Assignment 1: Write down all of the questions that you can think of that will elicit the gap between your dream client’s performance now and the performance you can help them achieve. No less than 10 to get started.
Once your dream client recognizes that they are dissatisfied, you need to ask the questions that help them to identify what they need to help them improve their performance. This is where you have the greatest opportunity to sell by helping your client identify and prioritize their needs. This is where their vision is being developed, and your presence and your help in developing and creating that vision put you in the catbird’s seat later (if you want to match your dream client’s A column precisely, help them write it—or know your competitor is).
Assignment 2: Write a list of all of the questions that you can think of that will your dream client identify everything necessary to generating better performance. Then write the questions that will help them to prioritize their needs, and to evaluate who and what they will need to create a change.
Your dream client may then start to evaluate their options, and they may hold a beauty pageant. If you are just getting in at this phase of the buying process, you are way behind. The truth is, coming in at the end of the buying cycle almost always means you are too late. But, there is hope.
Assignment 3: Make a list of the questions that can differentiate you from your competition, and prove that you are a better match. If you ask the questions that help your dream client talk about what is important, what their decision criteria really means, you can frame your solution around a story that adds meaning to who you, what you believe, and why it matters. (I am going to have to write a whole post—or two—about just this subject, no doubt).
Finally, your buyer will have some concerns towards the end of their buying process. Your questions are going to have to pull out all of the unresolved concerns—or fears—that your dream client is struggling with. You can’t help to resolve concerns if you don’t know what they are.
Assignment 4: Make a list of the straightforward, hard-hitting questions that will pull out all of the concerns that your dream client may have. Include the questions that help to identify how those concerns might best be resolved. These questions can help you to win, and they can save you from losing.
Write your needs analysis questions and buying cycle questions. If you have less than fifty high-impact, differentiating, value-creating, business-acumen proving, trust-building, opportunity-advancing questions, keep writing until you do. Then, start to use these questions and revise and improve them over time.
Your questions are much more important than anything in your slide deck.
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