If there is one thing that makes me madder than a hare in March, it’s a sales person asking their customer bad questions, or worse still, just plain and simple stupid questions.
Let me give you an example and let’s ignore the issue around whether you should be asking this type of question in the first place….the budget question.
“Do you have budget?”
A couple of points on this!
First of all, as we all should know by now, if you are using your solution to help the customer solve a critical business issue, then they will find the budget anyway!
And secondly and more importantly, assuming my first point isn’t applicable for whatever reason and we do ask this question and the customer answers Yes, what’s your next question going to be?
Yup, you’ve got it!
The next question has to be “How much budget do you have?”
Now again, ignoring the fact that most customers won’t answer anyway as they have been ripped off too many times in the past by sales cowboys whose price ‘just happens to match’ the customer’s budget, isn’t this really what you wanted to know in the first place?
So why ask the customer do you have budget and then ask them how much that budget is? Just cut to the chase and ask them how much budget is set aside for this solution? Asking them do they they have budget is a completely superfluous question!
Which brings me to my point!
A great sales person values their time and more importantly, values their customer’s time and one of the things which differentiates great sales people from good sales people, is the questions they ask their customers.
Your average sales person knows they should be qualifying their prospects better but they often don’t …….and the reason is always the same…..it takes too long!! And here’s the rub…..it takes too long because they aren’t asking the right questions!
Let’s take another example.
We are trying to find out who is the key decision maker and again, let’s ignore the fact that in any deal of any significant value, there is going to be multiple stakeholders.
A typical bad question I hear all the time is “Who makes the decision?” “Who’s the key stakeholder?”. “Who’s the ultimate decision maker?”
Now again let’s ignore all the other issues around asking this type of question and assume your prospect tells you it’s John!
Fantastic! We know who the key decision maker is so the next obvious question has to be……”and does anybody else help John make the decision?”
“Oh yes, he will take input from Sally and Michael” you hear.
So far so good….
“And what exactly is Sally and Michael’s role in all of this?”
“Well Sally will make the decision from an HR perspective and Michael from an IT perspective”
Excellent! Qualification is going really well!!
Except it’s not!
It’s not going well because I’m asking my customer a LOT of questions which, quite frankly, I could replace with one GREAT question!
“What is your decision making process?”
Now I’m not saying that if I ask this question I’m going to get everything I need to know, like the Who, When, How, Why and What of their decision making process, but I will get most of that from one question rather than asking four or five questions.
I can qualify a new prospect very quickly and do it in a way that builds my personal credibility, values my customer’s time and builds trust between me and my customer and it’s all to do with the questions I ask my customer!
The questions you ask your customer is the most IMPORTANT and the most DIFFICULT part of selling!
When I teach this in my Powerful Sales Performance programme, the delegates find this really hard – they find it really hard to come up with GREAT questions that build trust, credibility, help build value in the customers mind, are motivational and persuasive, and finally, values the customer’s time!
So if you are someone who does value their time…..there is no better use of your time than planning what questions you will ask your customer.
A simple starting point for this is to split your questions into three camps:
First of which, is what I call ‘a good thought-provoking starter question’ designed to get the customer thinking and to get the conversation moving. We all know that the best sales people are the ones who challenge their customers, so let’s kick off the meeting with a great thought- provoking starter question! If the customer can quickly and easily answer your question, it’s not a great question. If the customer scratches their head and says “hmm let me think about that for a moment” then that’s a great starter question and by challenging your customer and making them think, you are instantly adding value.
Second, we have ‘the follow-on question’ which is simply designed to gather more information from a customer and to clarify and verify what our research has already shown us. Unfortunately, most sales people start a meeting with a ‘follow-on question’ which after a few minutes of ‘doing all the talking’, leaves the customer wondering exactly what value the sales person is adding here.
The third and final type of question is ‘the next step question” designed to progress the sale and help you achieve whatever outcome you have set for this particular meeting.
Once you have planned your questions, share them amongst your peers, try them out in the field, document what works and doesn’t work and build up a database of great questions.
So, if you really want to be good at selling and avoid the bad and the downright ugly, spend a LOT of time planning and honing the questions you ask your customers.