Brian Robinson has been in sales for more than 20 years, but he said that he only thought he knew how to sell while he was in corporate America. He calls his plunge into entrepreneurialism the hardest thing he has ever done, and while it was successful, he said his eyes were opened when he entered the world of “you don’t sell, you don’t eat.”
Brian is the author of the book The Selling Formula, which codifies the steps he used to succeed in that venture.
Many salespeople do the old “show up and throw up.” We’re so anxious to get to the presentation that we neglect to ask the very best questions we can ask to uncover the needs. We’re seeking sincere engagement from our prospect, so this is the most critical component.
Brian noticed that the best physicians diagnose illness with a list of carefully-crafted questions. That information became especially important when he worked for Johnson and Johnson selling internal devices for laparoscopy. Though the device was clinically superior to anything on the market, he wasn’t getting any responses for trial evaluations.
He knew the device was superior, so he combed through the features and benefits and put together a list of questions related to them. He structured them in a specific order and the wording of each was intentional as well.
He tested the questions, and within about 30 days his trial evaluations doubled because of that list of questions.
When word got out that he had produced those kinds of results, people started asking for his list of questions. He passed it along and found that when people followed the questions exactly, they got the exact same results: they doubled their results.
Brian grew fascinated with the whole idea of going deep on questions. He even developed a personal mantra that questions are the key to life.
Although it took several iterations for Brian to get the list and order of questions exactly right, he stuck with it and he achieved success. There’s still an opportunity to make it even better, but it’s working very consistently now.
Brian defines sales malpractice as providing a diagnosis before you really understand the underlying issues. You won’t be able to give your prospect the best possible answer, and until you’ve uncovered a need, you won’t be able to proceed to the sales conversation.
You have to earn the right to have that conversation. If you rush too quickly into the presentation, your sales presentation won’t be nearly what it could have been.
The key to all of it is how you create your questions.
Begin by making a spreadsheet with three columns. The first is your features, the second is the benefits related to the feature, and in the third column write down every question you can think of related to those features.
Then take an 80/20 approach. Of the questions you’ve written, which 20% of questions will elicit 80% of the most critical benefits of your product? Start with general fact-finding questions and move into those 80/20 in the most appropriate order to identify the needs.
Imagine you’re selling premade home-cooked meals. What are two benefits to that service?
One is that you’re saving about 60 minutes per meal on grocery shopping, food prep, and cooking time. The other is simplicity. Now generate questions from those benefits.
- On a weekly basis, how many dinners do you cook for your family?
- How much time does it typically take you to make dinner?
- If all you had to do was move something from the freezer to the oven, how would that affect the frequency of your family meals?
Now order the questions from general fact-finding to more specific. Then place the most compelling ones at the top 20 percent of the questions you ask.
Get down to an emotional level. We unfortunately avoid this, often because we aren’t comfortable going that deep into our conversations. We also tend to approach these conversations with a transactional mindset instead of realizing these are human beings with deep emotional and physical needs.
Go the levels that can motivate us to change. We’re trying to make a difference as salespeople. Approach each situation with the mindset that you want to go deeper and ask heart-level questions.
Strive to be seen as a trusted advisor instead of as a sales rep. You’ll have a connection at the human level.
Selling the concept
If someone is willing to grab this idea and test it in their own sales conversations, the proof is in the doing. People have been shocked at the effectiveness of this practice because, shockingly, people don’t think this way.
Brian said he camped out on the questions because that’s where the gold is.
Sometimes management and metrics prompt us to rush the sales process. That causes us to focus on the wrong things. As a result, we end up working twice as hard with less impressive results.
Instead of focusing on outcomes, focus on being so connected to the prospect that the outcome will take care of itself.
We get comfortable where we are, so we live in ignorance. We are amazingly connected to our comfort level. We’re addicted to it. But in order to grow, you have to embrace struggle.
“Sales Malpractice” episode resources
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