Selling is always a challenge. When sellers are confused about what they’re selling or about what their customers want, selling is impossibly hard. Learning to ask questions that sell will absolutely make a difference in your sales process.
Paul Cherry talks to The Sales Evangelist audience about identifying the customers’ pain issues and getting them to verbalize and vocalize their concerns. He helps us understand how to craft questions that sell.
A veteran of sales for more than 20 years, Paul has written a book called Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants, and he’ll share a bit of his wisdom here today.
Revamp your questions
Paul’s experience suggests that the more seasoned we are at sales, the more likely we are to fall into the trap of talking, telling, educating, or solving problems. We want to get to the point.
Empathy and building relationships won’t go away, no matter what century we’re in.
The biggest mistake sellers make is failing to understand the customer’s business. And because it’s such a common problem, it can become a differentiator for sellers who are willing to take the time to discover what their prospects are looking for.
Whether they’re brand new or highly experienced, 87 percent of sellers ask questions that deal in the present state:
- What projects are you working on?
- What problems are you facing?
Ten percent of sellers ask questions dealing in the future:
- What are your goals?
About 3 percent ask questions related to the past:
- How has our service been in the past?
If you want to change your sales approach, get out of the present, because you’re boring people.
Don’t overlook the past
The secret to selling, though, is getting into the past, but sellers overlook it because we assume it’s dead; there’s no money there.
The truth is that the past is where experiences, challenges, frustrations, and hurdles reside. People are often willing to disclose past issues because it’s done. They feel more comfortable talking about it now that it’s over.
A key indicator is this: what challenges would you share with other people to enlighten them to your industry?
Paul points to two main reasons that salespeople won’t discuss the past.
- They don’t want to dig up pain issues that their company has caused the customer.
- They want to be respectful of the customer’s time by getting to the point.
The truth is that this conversation isn’t about the seller. Furthermore, Paul says that sellers routinely waste time talking about things like sports, hobbies, and other chitchat for 20 minutes.
If you want to stroke someone’s ego and really get them to develop a connection, start in the past.
Ask questions in a better way
Instead of the usual who, what, when, where, why questions, develop more engaging questions.
If, for example, you want to know if the person you’re speaking to is the decision-maker, how do you ask that? It’s an important question, but it’s a risky one because you chance offending or belittling the person.
Could we ask that same question in a more comfortable way with a descriptive opener, like “describe” or “tell me.”
Describe your decision-making process for me.
By asking descriptive openers, you address multiple questions with one question. In this case, you might find out who’s involved, how decisions are made, what priorities are involved, and when decisions are made.
I get more insight asking a single question, and it doesn’t feel so much like an interrogation.
In the case of disrupting an entrenched competitor, we tend to ask questions like these:
- Who do you use now?
- What do you like about them?
- Is there an opportunity there?
If the prospect is fairly content, you will get pushed out. You’re wasting time.
Instead, try this:
- Tell me about some of the changes going on in your marketplace.
- Tell me about the criteria that was important when you chose this vendor. Has that changed?
When you ask about change, people won’t give you a knee-jerk response to stay where they are. If you can get them to talk about change, you can address voids or disparities that the current vendor isn’t addressing.
Thoughts for new sellers
New sellers are often in a great position because they don’t know what they don’t know.
Begin by asking about the challenges the customer is facing, as well as what’s working and what’s not. Realize that where there are problems, there are opportunities.
- What changes is your organization experiencing right now?
- How are you looking to differentiate yourself from the competition?
Start at 10,000 feet before you dive deep and start asking your prospect how you can help. Salespeople want to go right to 500 feet but the customer isn’t there yet. It feels like you have your hand in their pockets.
Avoid the temptation to ask a question and then zone out when your customer starts talking. It’s tempting, after we’ve asked a question, to focus on the next thing we’re going to say or ask instead of hearing what the customer has to say.
If you’ll simply listen, the customer will give you the next question to ask.
If the customer mentions he’s thinking about pursuing new projects. Paul suggests using what he calls lock-ons. Which word will you lock on to? Listen to the verb.
In this case, he is thinking of pursuing new projects. Lock on to that word and structure new questions around it.
- Describe your thought process.
- What criteria are you considering?
- What are you hoping to see?
Your whole job as a sales professional is to understand emotional drivers.
Remember the following three things to make selling work:
- Ask the right questions.
- Engage the right people.
- Qualify the right opportunities.
Focus your energy and resources on people who are receptive and motivated for change.
If the customer did most of the talking, it’s a great call. If you did most of the talking, not so great.
“Questions That Sell” episode resources
Grab a copy of Paul’s other book, The Ultimate Sales Pro: What the Best Salespeople Do Differently for more wisdom from Paul’s long history in sales.
Buy a copy of Neil Rackham’s book Spin Selling for more information about getting into a customer’s pain issues.
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