“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.
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.
Closing new business is the main objective of professional salespeople. Everyone knows sales is a challenging career. To outsiders who know little about sales, closing new business seems to be the hardest part- a mysterious technique that is often unsuccessful. But believe it or not, we’ve seen that closing can be easy if you’ve paved the way with your prospect by taking the right steps. Closing should be a natural outcome of a discussion between you and your prospect. By the time you get to the close, your prospect has reached the unavoidable conclusion that your solution is just what their business needs. The “hard work” of sales lies in taking the right steps throughout the process that result in an easy close.
What Makes Closing Easier?
First, be sure you are addressing the real decision maker. There is nothing more frustrating than discovering that you’ve walked through an entire sales process only to find that the person you’ve developed a relationship with needs to bring in another party who will ultimately make the decision.
Confirm that your prospect’s problem can be addressed by your solution. Take time to fully understand how the problem has impacted their business, what stress it has caused, what resources it has consumed, and what they’ve already done to address it. This allows you to adjust your script to speak directly to their challenges and their experiences.
Make sure that you are getting mini ‘buy-ins’ as you are progressing through the sales process. Do this by ensuring that this is a two-way conversation. Check for agreement at key points in the discussion. You’ll be able to assess your prospect’s level of engagement, confirm their level of interest, and address potential objections.
Above all, throughout the engagement, never forget that “people buy from other people”. Make sure that your prospect feels good about connecting with you and is looking forward to working with you.
If you’ve taken these steps, once you are ready to close, you can simply ask: “What would you like to happen next?”
At One of a Kind Sales, we are sales experts. We provide services that help qualify leads, improve sales performance, and close more business. Want to learn more? Give us a call at 908-879-2911.