The Importance of Questions
Just as salespeople can easily get wrapped around the gears of talking about features and benefits, throwing out industry jargon, using three letter acronyms to describe your services, it's also possible for them to fall in the trap of making statements instead of asking questions. Or worse, they'll get a list of really great questions and they'll just stick to that list no matter what.
Real conversations must be context specific. Your sales people need to listen exceptionally well. You can't go in with a roadmap that says, “these are the 15 questions we're going to ask on this sales call”. You should go in thinking, “this is where I need this call to end up. I need to find out if they're a fit for us. I need to find out if they have the kind of problems that we solve. I need to find out how those problems manifest in this company”. Sometimes it takes a lot of questions to get there, but you can never be sure what path the conversation will take.
Have your sales managers really focus on their sales team's ability to use open ended questions, listen carefully to what the prospect says, write down a couple of the key phrases or words that they use, and then ask a follow up question. If they get into that open listening, open questioning and just ask the next logical follow up question, they may take a circuitous route to the end goal. It's okay if they go down a rabbit trail here and there as long as they keep coming back to the main trail. Often you're finding the real issue is kind of off the main trail a little bit. So follow up with an explanation or another question based on what the prospective client just shared.
As you're uncovering an issue, you can start to look at it from different perspectives. Let's say there's a workflow issue. Your company that's selling machine automation tools would help improve the throughput of any manufacturing machine cell and they start asking questions about throughput and you might want to start to look at it from a different point of view. One filter to use is maybe a stakeholder perspective, or how that impacts your current team. The plant manager is sharing a challenge they have with you, and you might look at it and say, “how does that impact your current team? How does that impact your sales team? How does that impact your customers? Have you ever had to turn away business because of that issue?” Try and look at it from multiple stakeholders perspectives as a way to amplify and be more nuance. It's all about following up and asking additional questions on whatever issue you just uncovered.
Another example of a perspective you can take is to look at it through the lens of time. Some questions to get at the root of a time issue are, how long has this been an issue? When did you first notice this? What have you done to try and fix it? How well did that work? What are you going to try next? What if that doesn't work? What would you try after that? Fast forward six months, what happens if this isn't resolved? How does that make you feel?
When you can listen to what they're saying and then look at that issue or challenge from multiple perspectives – whether it’s from a stakeholder perspective, a time perspective a reputation risk perspective, etc. – you can start to dig deeper with questions such as how does this impact you in the market? How does this impact your investors? How does this impact your community? Looking at it from every stakeholder's perspective will help give you more nuance and clarity around the impact of the problems your company can solve.
Something to look out for as your sales team starts to have better conversations, the buyers or the prospective buyers, may begin to clam up. They may begin to feel like they're talking too much, so your sales team needs to be great at asking little questions to spur them to share their next thought. I think of these as a list of helper questions. Questions like, “could you tell me more about that?”
As your sales people get better at asking though-provoking questions, they'll go down paths that they may not expect to, but they'll get really good information. Make sure that they're not just making statements and talking about features and benefits or using complex language. Make sure they're asking questions and using exceptional listening skills. If your sales team can get better at that, you'll see much higher win rates, better opportunities entering your pipeline, and massive revenue growth.
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