Should You Answer a Question with a Question?

“Answer a question with a question” is a Sandler Selling System rule that is sometimes controversial. Sales teams I’ve worked with often express the concern that using this approach could lead to them appearing evasive or “too salesy”.  But as with all “rules” you have to apply them with skill and understand the objective.

Why ask so many questions?

‘Question asking’ is how we salespeople gain a true understanding of our prospect’s needs. The objective is not to avoid answering questions but to avoid shutting down the valuable conversation that leads to a deeper understanding of the prospect and their specific situation.  Without this understanding, we may not really know whether our solution is a good fit for their problem and we may misunderstand the value that our solution holds for this prospect.

I think that we should think of ourselves as diagnosticians when we have a sales meeting.  Consider this: If you go to a doctor with a headache, she will ask questions to identify the cause. Sometimes the cause is not obvious. If the doctor just treats the symptom, it is possible that the symptom might not go away, or it could disappear in the short term, but return because the underlying cause wasn’t addressed.  Likewise, we have found that what is first expressed by some prospects as the reason they might need your solution, may only be the visible expression of a deeper issue. Solving this deeper issue is where our value lies.

So the message in this rule is that ‘question asking’ is integral to the sales process and we ought to focus on asking questions and having a conversation rather than showing that we have all the answers.  It’s good for the prospect to know that we have the expertise, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of learning as much as we can about our prospects.

Apply this rule with skill

Always use your good judgment to assess whether you have learned enough about your prospect. Take your cues from the information that you’re receiving and from how your prospect is responding to you. Open-ended questions are key to uncovering hidden problems and key motivators that may be important to your ability to successfully close the sale. For example:

  • Why is this important to you?
  • Can you tell me more about this?
  • What else happens when this problem crops up?
  • Why do you think this is happening?

If we focus on the conversation first and foremost, we will learn enough to know when it is the right time to ask our favorite question, “What would you like to have happen next?”

At One of a Kind Sales, we love selling and we are experts at cold calling, in particular. If you would like to discuss how we can help you and your team please contact us at 908-879-2911.

What to Do When They are “Thinking About It”

I was recently at a meeting about sales efficiency where a debate broke out about what salespeople should do when a prospect says, “I’ll think about it.” Participants were divided. Some felt that this meant that the selling process was not complete and they should continue to engage the prospect. Others strongly believed that once a prospect tells you “I’ll think about it,” they should move to the next prospect. I firmly believe you should move on.

As a professional salesperson, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with prospects over the years. Because I’m focused on my sales objective and the need to be efficient with my time, it’s critical to know when to move on. We all know that we should not rush to close a prospect. We all know that we should be looking for signs to disqualify a prospect throughout the discussion. When these signs appear early, perhaps it’s easier to recognize that the prospect is not a fit for our solution and end the discussion. But when the signs show up later, they can be more difficult to recognize, perhaps because we are more emotionally invested. But that verbal message, “I’ll think about it” is a clear red flag to me. To confirm whether it’s really time to move on, I might ask, “Is there anything else I can tell you?”, and if the prospect says “yes,” I will address the question. But if the answer is “no,” then it’s clearly time for me to move on.

Why move on? Continuing to sell to a person who is telling you that they need to think about it after you’ve had robust discussions delays you from moving to a prospect that you might be able to more readily convert. Frankly, “I’ll think about it” is really the kiss of death.  Experience tells me that this prospect is not likely to make a positive decision and I would be wasting time continuing the conversation.

You may be thinking, ‘well I’ve spent all of this time getting to know this prospect and I hate to let it drop.’   But that is not what you should do.  You should move the prospect into a nurturing program with a plan to revisit them at some point to see if conditions have changed.

It might be very attractive to continue discussions with someone with whom you’ve already developed a relationship in the hope that they will convert. But you really are fooling yourself. We need to be clear-eyed about what’s going on in a sales engagement. Ideally, we never ask for the sale until the time is right.  At that point, if they say they still need to “think about it,” it’s time to gracefully move on.

At One of a Kind Sales, we love selling and we are experts at sales and cold calling, in particular. If you would like to discuss how we can help you and your team please contact us at 908-879-2911.

What Leads to a Successful Sale?

A quiz for you:

Communicating your expertise and product knowledge to your prospect leads to a successful sale:

1/ True

2/ False

I came across this question in a session with a world-class expert in the Sandler selling method.   This is one that can spark a lot of debate.

I’m aware that many salespeople are trained to be product experts.  In fact, product or service training may be the lion’s share of the formal training that they receive from their company.  Often, salespeople are coached to share their knowledge in order to establish their expertise with a prospect. This might be because the business perceives that the offering is so differentiated that once a prospect fully understands it they will jump at the opportunity. So, an encyclopedic knowledge of the offering and the ability to communicate it is often perceived as a major sales success factor for a salesperson.

However, consider the problems that could arise with this approach.  What if we miss something critical because we are so busy “communicating” about our offering?  When we first meet with a prospect, I believe it’s important to let the prospect communicate with us.  What are their current issues? Why are they even talking to us about our offering? What problems are they trying to solve?  If we move into “presentation mode” without knowing the answers to these questions, we risk losing the prospect’s attention by not addressing their core concerns.   In order to get at these concerns, we need to take the time to ask the right questions and then engage in active listening so that the prospect can communicate with us and so that we can internalize what they are saying.  We need a two-way conversation and, particularly early in the discussion, it’s ideal if the prospect does most of the talking.  This is where we learn what we need to know in order to confirm if they are a good fit for our solution and then close the sale.

So what’s my answer to this question?

False: I’ve concluded that product knowledge and expertise aren’t enough to close the sale.

My recommendations:

  1. Avoid getting into the “nuts and bolts” of a product presentation immediately with a prospect.
  2. Slow down and take the time to get to know prospects in order to learn what motivates them.

When you truly understand their situation, you can then start to use your understanding of your offering to highlight how your solution will make a real difference for them.  In my experience, taking this approach will improve the likelihood of a successful outcome.

At One of a Kind Sales, we love to sell and are lifelong learners when it comes to selling. Cold calling is our specialty. If your business needs help with getting appointments with qualified prospects, give us a call at 908-879-2911.

Four Easy Steps to Closing More Business by Nancy Calabrese

As business owners, we all want to grow by winning new clients. But many of us find it difficult to “convert” new opportunities into paying clients. This leads to frustration.

In my 20+ years of experience as a sales professional, I’ve observed that many business owners meet prospects and then immediately move forward to “sell” without taking a pause and assessing what needs to happen next. They don’t actively manage the selling process. There are four actions you can take to help increase your sales efficiency.

Step 1—Talk to the Real Decision Maker

There is nothing more frustrating than discovering that you’ve walked through an entire sales process only to discover that your prospect needs to bring in another party who will ultimately make the decision. The step of confirming that your contact is the real decision maker is often overlooked. We get excited over the prospect of new business with a long-sought company and it’s easy to assume that our contact holds more power than they do.

Make sure you explore the company’s decision-making process with the person who is your contact. Be prepared to say you can only go so far in the process without having the ultimate decision makers involved. Your likelihood of getting to a commitment is greater when you speak directly to the decision maker(s).

Questions you can ask to move this along are:

  • What is the decision-making process for services or products like mine?
  • Who else will be part of the decision making?
  • Are there other major stakeholders who would be involved in the decision?

Step 2—Ensure Your Solution is Relevant

It’s better to learn quickly if there is no current opportunity with a target company rather than to invest your time selling to someone who doesn’t need or value the solution you offer. Once you confirm that you have a relevant solution, take time to understand how the problem has impacted their business. This allows you to adjust your discussion to speak directly to their experiences. It may feel unnatural to not push to a close immediately upon confirming their need. But if you invest your time in this dialogue, your prospects may actually sell themselves. They are reminding themselves why they should be talking to you. And they realize that you are listening to them. This makes them more amenable to moving forward.

Ask the following questions:

  • How has this problem affected your business? And for how long?
  • What resources has this problem consumed? What did it cost you?
  • What have you already done to address it?

Step 3—Seek Confirmation Along the Way

Throughout the discussion, make sure that you are getting mini buy-ins. Check for agreement at key points, ideally using open-ended questions. Don’t wait until the end of your presentation to ask their opinion. This way, you’ll be able to assess your prospect’s level of engagement, confirm their interest, and address potential objections as they occur. Moreover, this approach will ensure that this is a two-way conversation.

Use these prompting questions:

  • How consistent is this with what you experienced?
  • What are your thoughts on this?
  • How does this sound to you?

Step 4—Let Your Personality Shine Through

Throughout the engagement, never forget that “people buy from other people.” Let your personality shine through! If you are staying true to steps 1 though 3, your empathy for their situation will be apparent and you’ll build credibility and trust. Ultimately, you want your prospects to feel good and look forward to working with you.

Getting to the Close

Using this approach, the natural outcome of a discussion between you and your prospect is to move to a proposal.

  • You are talking to the right person.
  • You know they have a problem that you can solve.
  • They’ve validated for themselves that they have this need.
  • They know that you have a deep understanding of their situation.

By the time you get to this point, your prospect should have reached the unavoidable conclusion that your solution is just what their business needs.

Here’s the final piece of “magic”—if you’ve taken these steps, once you are ready to close, you can simply ask, “What would you like to happen next?”

When you get your next opportunity, take a step back, consider this guidance, and see what happens.

If your business is facing sales-related challenges, please reach out to us at 908-879-2911. At One of a Kind Sales, we are experts in sales and we particularly love cold calling.  We look forward to speaking with you!

This article, written by Nancy Calabrese of One of a Kind Sales, originally appeared in The Bottom Line, No. 3: 2022, the quarterly newsletter of  NJAWBO, New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners.

Why I Attended Outbound 2022

A couple of weeks ago, I attended Outbound 2022 in Atlanta.  Outbound is self-described as “the biggest, baddest conference in the Sales Profession.” Outbound is unique because it’s the only conference focused exclusively on “sales prospecting, pipeline, and productivity.”  I always make it a point to attend.

Continuing Education

Some people are amazed that I would take time away from my business to go to a conference with other salespeople. But in my view, I’m not taking time away from my business, I’m investing time in my business because, as the owner of a business whose primary focus is outbound cold calling, attending Outbound is continuing education for me.

A conference like Outbound gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by and interact with individuals who believe in outbound activities.  These are people who strive to be the best professional salespeople every day. While there, I’m able to explore new ideas and develop relationships that have led to growth for my own business. My experience at Outbound allows me to be a better leader of my own organization and inspire my team to do their best job.

I also invest in my own people. We have weekly Sandler training attended not only by my sales specialists but my admin team as well. As a result, my admin team has a deeper understanding of our business and they have become better communicators as a result. This investment pays off with greater efficiency and productivity for my business.

My Love of Learning

If you’ve followed my blog and my social posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I have a strong thirst for learning. Attending Outbound helps satisfy that need.  But another way that I address this is through my Conversational Selling podcast. A recent conversation with my colleague Liz Wendling, President of Liz Wendling Business Consulting and Sales Coaching left me considering her wise words: “Selling is the only way to stay in business.” Given the truth of this statement, the need for good sales skills is inexhaustible. One of a Kind Sales will continue to hone these skills to meet the needs of our clients.

At One of a Kind Sales, we love to sell and cold calling is our specialty. If your business needs help with this, give us a call at 908-879-2911.