Without a good question, a good answer has no place to go...
Many sales that could happen, never do because the right questions aren't asked. Being a great salesperson takes a number of things. Focused, results driven activity, attention to detail, relationship building, the ability to read people and personalities, etc. One of the most important, or perhaps THE most important is the ability to ask the right questions.
But, what are the right questions? There are so many you can ask! Every prospect is different. Every industry is different. My products are unique. You get it.
After 20 years of leading sales organizations and growing companies, I have found there are 5 critical questions that should be used throughout the sales process. These questions will help you not only focus on the sales with the most potential, but help you to close more of these deals.
Question #1, The Qualifying Question
Nothing is more frustrating than putting in a bunch of time working with a client, running around fulfilling requests, putting together proposals, and everything else in-between, and then having the prospect not make a decision. Or worse yet, finding out they never had an intention of making a decision in the first place. They were just "gathering information."
But how do you know if a prospect is in serious buying mode or just wasting your time? Before you start running around doing what could be a bunch of unnecessary work and wasting your time, ask them this question, "What is your deadline for making a decision?" It is a simple, but powerful question. First, you are using the word deadline which is powerful in that by it's nature, it is a set date in time. Never use "time-frame," because time frames are expandable. But a deadline is not, it is locked in. Second, this question allows the prospect to reveal the nature of their request. If they don't have a deadline (ie "We want to make a decision in the next month, etc"), and say they don't know, you know that they are not buying. By all means, give them some info, find out when they might be looking to by, but don't spend a bunch of time outside of that. This question will save you countless hours and help you narrow down the prospects who are serious buyers in your pipeline.
Question #2, The Onion Question
We are not really talking about onions here, but we are peeling them back. Most sales people ask a question, get an answer and don't go any further. And they wonder why they don't get the sale. You have to peel back the onion and get to the root of the issues, needs, and wants of a prospect. That means asking 2nd, 3rd, 4th level questions and so on.
And the best way to do that is simple. Ask them, "What else?" Or "And what else?" You have to get where you understand THEIR ideas, because it is their ideas that sell the product or service - not yours. Understanding a deep level will give you this and you can simply discuss how what you are providing aligns with their ideas.
Question #3: The Problem Question
Once you have a done good job of getting all of a prospect's ideas and thoughts in a subject, wouldn't be nice to know which challenge you discussed is the most important - the real problem that needs solved?
You can get to it with this question, "Out of all the challenges mentioned, which one is the real challenge for you?" The key here is the "for you." You are smart enough to know you should be talking to the decision maker and if you are, you are bringing it home for them. Putting it right squarely on their sole reason for talking to you. It's time to find out what the most important thing is and asking the question in this way will give it to you.
Question #4: The Nirvana Question
Most salespeople focus on "what a prospect needs" instead of "what a prospect wants." Look, if your product can't satisfy what a prospect needs, you are in the wrong business. Solving needs should be looked at like the bare minimum. Finding out what a prospect truly wants, their grand vision - their "Nirvana," and then showing them how you can help them make it a reality, is where the magic happens and sales superstars are made.
You can do this by asking this question, "What do you truly want out of this solution? What does the perfect world look like for you?" You should quickly follow in saying, "I'm not sure if we can give it to you exactly as you describe it, but I'd sure love to hear what it is so we can try!" This does a few things. First, you get them thinking of something bigger, something that excites them, and second, you are not committing to it, but you are showing that you are willing to work with them toward it - to be a true partner. This shows them that you are more than just "trying to sell them something" and puts you into a different category vs. the competition.
Question #5: The Differentiator Question
So, let's say you go through the whole process and for whatever reason, the prospect decides not to buy. We all wish we could have a 100% close rate, don't we?? Two things to always remember, first "No, means not yet." and second, "the fortune is in the follow up." Most sales people, move on from a great prospect when they get a no. To them, that is the end, when in reality, it is not.
The prospect will continue buying products like yours, so it is your job to stay top of mind for when they are ready. Maybe the solution they bought instead of yours gives them issues 6 months down the road. Or, maybe, they find the service to be terrible. You never know, which is why you need to leave the door open and the way to do that is to ask them, "Can I follow up with you down the road? If so, when?" The last part is most important because this is how prove (if you are disciplined) that you should earn their business. If they tell you "Sure, call me in 6 months," make the note to the day and call them in 6 months. It is this discipline to follow up without fail that will be your big differentiator in the marketplace and win you even more sales over time. Always remember, the fortune is in the follow up!
These 5 questions obviously have their place in different areas of the sales cycle. Start figuring where you can work them into yours. Here's to higher close rates and bigger commission checks!