The questions we ask a potential client can make or break the deal.
Execute properly and you pave the way for a higher probability sale. Execute poorly and you disconnect!
Here are several of the mistakes you need to avoid, at all cost!
1) Failure to establish the proper environment. This includes everything from not having enough time, to allowing people to tell you “we know exactly what we want so you don’t have to ask us those questions” etc. Let’s be clear. We need to be respectful and control the meeting without being controlling (there’ s a huge difference) but by the same token, would you go to a Doctor’s office and say “Put away that Stethoscope Doc. It’s my bladder so I just need you to work up a quote on surgery?” Selling should never be different. If someone is rushing your due diligence to the point that you know that this will be a “screw you” down the line, get the screw you today instead and insist (respectfully) that they allow you to be the professional you are.
2) Allowing Your Needs Analysis To Take On A “20 Questions Guessing Game” Vibe. Maybe it’s the impatient New Yorker in me coming out, but why get into this “Is it animal or mineral” BS? I like to cut to the chase and ask a question at the start of my needs analysis that goes like this “Granted I called you . . . what prompted you to take this meeting today?” It gives me a direction to go in 9 out of 10 times and saves everyone the annoyance of questions that have nothing to do with “where it hurts”.
3) Asking a crappy question. This includes everything from questions that you could have answered yourself by taking a time to research (How many locations do you have? etc) to weak questions that don’t serve you or the prospect. So how does one ask a better question? By mentally firing yourself from your industry and rehiring yourself in theirs! If you were the person buying what you sell, what would piss you off? I would imagine it could be things like quality, deadlines, surprise costs, poor communication, managing multiple vendor relationships, internal customers, dealing with sales people, navigating around internal external buying policies, how to sell a change to the internal team, cost containment etc. On a more positive note, there are things all businesses want such as more customers, more market share, more profit, happy customers, employees and shareholders, lower turnover, better image and brand awareness, increased efficiencies, quicker to market launches, innovation etc. What questions can you ask to get them thinking about this? This is the stuff they want fixed! Want to take this over the top? Think of one killer, “knock you on your ass” question. I’m talking about one question that flaws the prospect and makes them think “Holy schnikees. Nobody ever asked me that before. The insurance industry has the ultimate “If something were to happen to you, could your family meet its financial needs?” Whoa! Way to stun me long enough to make me listen to you dude!
4) Asking a good question at the wrong time: When we jump right in with a more intimate question, a prospect might think “Who the heck is the person to ask me that? I don’t know them or trust them” and then they shut down on you. Personally, I like to ease into my questions by starting with more situational types of questions and then increasing the intensity at a pace dictated by my read of the prospect.
5) Answering your own question. Don’t laugh. It happens more than you think!
6) Asking a clichéd question: Example “What keeps you up at night? “On a scale from 1-10 how is your present service?” “What would it take to make them a 10?” Don’t get me wrong, I could think of worse things to ask a prospect, but why sound like every other sales person who sits in the hot seat?
7) Asking a set up or “salesy” question: These are the questions that they see coming from like a hundred miles away. My favorite “If I could show you a way to blah, blah, would you seriously consider blah?” I think the 80’s called and wants their sh*tty question back!
8) Being so attached to your questions on paper that you don’t follow up on the answer or allow the conversation to “go there”. My best suggestion here (aside from being flexible enough to allow a “discussion” to occur) is to memorize by the topics your questions fall under. This way when a conversation goes from something that’s a deadline issue to a communication issue, you know how the questions execute out of sequence.
9) Not asking continuation questions and racing to your next question. The best information you can get is usually when a prospect is encouraged to continue or expand. You can facilitate that by simply following up their answer with: “Tell me more” “can you give me an example of that?” “what happened as a result?” and even using some strategically placed (get this) silence. People have an innate need to fill silence. Let it be your prospect. One disclaimer: If you wait too long you might get a “Bless your heart” and a pat on the head.
10) Making “I wasn’t listening statements” after they answer your question. Examples: “Fair enough” “Interesting” First of all, what the hell are you saying to me? When someone says “Interesting” I feel like you are doing some amateur psychoanalysis and you just concluded I was a bed wetter or something. Are you judging me? “Fair enough” WTF is that? Is that you feeling I was defending an opinion that you don’t agree with? Was that your reentry back into our conversation after an outer body experience and it came down to either saying that or shouting out some other random word like “DAISEYS” Either way, congrats, you are conditioning me to not give you as much on the next question. Gold star, Rain Man! Here’s an idea. Don’t know what to say after someone responds, thank them for their answer and move on.
11) Asking questions that are so full of prefacing and tangents that they confuse the prospect. I’ve witnessed a bunch of those in my career. The best was when the prospect just stared at the sales rep when he finished and said “I have no clue of what you said, or where you are going with that last question. Was it a question?”
12) Making the Needs Analysis an interrogation instead of a conversation. I offered to help someone the other day with a challenge they were having. I came prepared with a page and a half of ideas. I didn’t get a chance to help this person because they just kept peppering me with questions. At one point I resisted the urge to ask her if I should get my attorney. The cure (in my opinion) is to use different types of questions and to make the exchange conversational and collaborative. Otherwise you are encouraging the prospect to shut down on you.
13) Failure to validate feelings. When someone tells you about a challenge or an incident, don’t race to the next question, acknowledge and validate. This goes back to something I say all the time in this blog “Everyone has a story and wants to be heard” How about a little “I give a damn? How about an “I’m sorry to hear that” or “that would bother me too, and what a testimonial to your professionalism that you kept a cool head” Remember: race to your next question too quickly and you might brand yourself as insensitive and cold. The best part, is that they might not even be able to articulate that. It may hit them as more of a “gut feeling”. When that happens, classic fight or flight kicks in and we simply avoid.
14) Pre Supposition Questions (aka putting words in the other dude’s mouth) Example “Tell me about the challenges you are having with your current vendor” Meanwhile, nobody said anything about challenges.
15) Allowing Unproductive Tangents. Part of your responsibility as the professional is to facilitate a process without being controlling. If the conversation is going in a direction that isn’t beneficial, then you need to get things back on course.
16) Failure to Customize Your Questions based on your Pre Call Planning findings: Don’t be this creature of habit who must ask the questions they always asked. Better to have your arsenal, and choose your weapon and even create your weapon based on the situation at hand. Besides, doesn’t asking a very specific set of questions, that demonstrates that you did your homework help out in the rapport department?
17) Committing Any Combination of the 4 Dickish Sins: Interrupting, talking over, finishing thoughts, rushing the prospect’s answer. I know someone who has this annoying habit of saying “right, right, right” when you are answering their question or just making a statement they want you to cut to the chase on. Don’t ever do that to your prospect or you will be (once again) conditioning them to not give you the details you need. The best way for you to avoid interrupting or talking over is to simply pause after they answer the question.
18) Disrespecting the word “Why”. The word “why” can serve you, and in many cases it can hurt you in that it might make the other person feel they have to defend their position. Try changing “why” to “what” as in “what prompted you to take that position” or “what were the events that led to those feelings” The “what” question gets you into mechanics and processes which can be far more productive. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get to the emotions and the feelings. That’s why I phrased this one “Disrespecting the word “why”. I can’t emphasize it enough that if we aren’t careful, we literally condition prospects to be guarded! Not a good place to be hombre!
19) Considering a Needs Analysis A One Time Thing: I hope you highlight this one. I see so many people who conduct a brilliant needs analysis, win the account and then never do it again. Things change my friend. Statistically speaking, just in the time you spent reading this post, something has changed somewhere.
Immediate Action Item: Starting thinking of a needs analysis as the annual check up at the Dr. Schedule a check up with your clients and every prospect that you haven’t done a needs analysis in the last 6 months.
I won’t lie to you, there’s a lot here to digest. My suggestion is that you print this out, and commit to “owning” these tips . . . one bite at a time!
Your closing ratio will go up dramatically when you do!
He who asks is a fool for 5 minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever
I help sales reps, sales leaders and business owners sell more. To learn how, click HERE. For speaking availability and rates, email me email@example.com