Poor questioning habits are some of the most significant reasons salespeople are not consistently successful. Struggling salespeople have unproductive sales meetings every day that could easily be saved with just a single, well-timed qualifying question. The challenge is that the single question is never the same, and therefore can’t be given to the salesperson to ask and can’t be paid for with a high dollar sales training program. The skill and the right to ask that question must be earned. How is it earned? It is paid for with lots of other questions for qualified lead generation.
Let me explain...
There are 2 basic reasons that salespeople don’t ask enough or the 'right' questions when in a selling situation:
- Risk of losing credibility
- Lack of questioning skill
Most sales professionals understand that they must possess credibility to be successful. Few need to be taught this basic fact of human interaction. However, their innate impulse to establish or retain credibility causes them to resist asking questions. They think, What happens if the prospect gives me an answer I don’t understand or I am not prepared for? What if the client figures out that I don’t really understand their business that well? Most salespeople would rather lose an opportunity than lose face with a client or prospect. So, how does the sales person overcome this challenge?
Prepare for the sales call
Take 15 minutes and look through the company’s website. Read the first few pages of their quarterly report to investors. Read a couple of the company’s blog posts and latest news clippings.
Prepare 3-4 primary sales questions
After researching the client for a few minutes, draft 3-4 thoughtful questions that will get the conversation headed in the direction you want. Then, practice asking them aloud so they sound natural when you speak to the prospect. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to prepare these questions. In most cases the best questions can be edited and reused with different prospects.
Next, be prepared to “drill down” with follow-up qualification questions. This is the silver bullet if there is one. The more you drill down on a topic, the richer the conversation. The richer the conversation, the more credibility you earn and most importantly, the more you learn about your prospect, their industry, and business in general. Each and every one of these conversations serves to inform every conversation you will have in the future. This dynamic is not in play when you simply present your solution and respond to questions from your prospect about your solution.
Sales questioning exercise
Here is an exercise that will help you have deeper and more insightful conversations with your prospects and clients.
Start with a well thought-out and researched primary question that will help you uncover a pain point that your product or service can relieve. For example:
Primary Question: “I read in your quarterly report this morning that your CEO has prioritized nationwide expansion of your service area for this year. How is your team involved in supporting that objective?”
(Listen carefully to the response and attempt to ask 'who', 'what', 'when', 'where', and 'why' follow up questions.)
WHY is this project such a high priority for the business?
Interesting, besides your team WHO else is involved?
WHERE does the project stand today? Are you on track?
WHEN do you expect to finish this phase of the project?
WHAT will happen if you can’t finish on time?
You should now have all the information you need to align your solution to the specific goals, priorities and timeframes you have uncovered. In addition to your stronger position with the client, you have more details about how and why clients in your market make decisions. The most successful salespeople will leverage this insight in future sales calls with other prospects. Using these principles will elevate an average sales person to a trusted adviser in short order.
Practice this Line-of-Questioning exercise with your colleagues, sales manager or sales team. Make it a goal to ask better primary questions and at least 2-3 follow-up questions to help uncover the real opportunity for B2B sales.