After a QBS training event, salespeople often say to me, "Wow, Tom, it’s amazing that such a small adjustment in the way I position myself can have such a huge impact on how customers perceive my products.”
Meanwhile, sales managers often ask me, "What advice can you give us on how to implement Question Based Selling and make it part of our culture, so the methodology becomes second nature to our salespeople?”
Thus, I created a new section on our website called Implementation Tips. My intent was to create a virtual repository of specific QBS techniques that sellers can use to get the "creative juices" flowing, in addition to reinforcing key QBS concepts.
If you have a specific tip request, I invite you to enter a comment and I will respond. Also, I invite you to subscribe to our RSS Feed, and/or bookmark this page, as I plan to grow this data bank multiple times per week, or at a bare minimum, adding content on every flight in 2010.
Have you ever noticed that companies spend millions of dollars telling salespeople what to say, but they spend almost nothing teaching them what to ask? It’s true. While the typical sales process has been defined many times over, organizations assume salespeople already know how to ask the right questions, in a manner that will maximize the value of your products and services.
In my first book, Secrets of Question Based Selling, I refer to questions as: The Most Powerful Tool in Sales. Besides just gathering information, strategic questions are also a salesperson’s best tools for:
* Piquing Customer Interest * Establishing Credibility
* Understanding Requirements * Creating a Sense of Urgency
* Qualifying Opportunities * Competitive Differentiation
* Negotiation/Positioning * Securing Commitments
* Maintaining Margins * Getting Leads/Referrals
* Winning More Business!
…which is much more than just probing to understand the customer’s needs.
For me, Question Based Selling represents the culmination of a career-long journey—one that has helped me realize that strategic questions are more than just staples of everyday conversation. Perhaps this marks the beginning of a new journey for you as well; not only as a motivated reader, but as a student of the question-based sale. Congratulations on taking the first step. I wish you the best!
Scroll through pages and pages of QBS techniques and coaching tips that will increase your probability of success and further your implementation of Question Based Selling!
Tip topics range from needs development strategies, to how to kick off more interactive product presentations, to Coaching the Softer Skills, to leveraging curiosity to leave more effective voce-mail messages.
Click QBS Implementation Tips to get started. No cost or subscription required.
For decades, salespeople have been taught that open-ended questions are the best tools for causing prospects to “open up.” This thinking is incorrect. In fact, asking for too much too soon is one of the quickest ways to cause someone to shut down and not share anything with you.
Open-ended questions can be valuable conversational tools, but only after you have successfully piqued someone’s interest and have established some credibility. Hence, in QBS, a technique called Diagnostic Questions becomes the most effective way to kick off your needs development conversations.
Salesperson: “Can I ask you a couple specifics about _________?”
Customer: “Sure, go ahead.”
The first question is the easiest part. At some point in most sales conversations, there will be an opportunity for discovery. When these opportunities to ask questions arise, there is only one time in Question Based Selling where I recommend exact wording (above). Basically, you are asking permission. This is a low risk approach.
Once the customer grants you permission (99%), you ask a series of short-answer questions to understand specific facts about their current situation. Selling technology, for example, you might ask:
Salesperson: “How many servers do you currently have installed?”
“Supporting how many users?”
“In how many locations?”
“Do you manage the network in-house, or do you outsource?”
“How many engineers do you have on staff?”
“How many are Microsoft certified?”
Within a short time window (generally less than 60 seconds), this technique of Diagnostic Questions enables the strategic salesperson to kick off needs development conversations in a non-threatening manner, gather valuable information that guides the conversation, establish credibility as a valuable resource, and earn the right to transition into more depth.
From here, you can easily broaden the Scope to ask open-ended questions
Whether it’s fair or not, salespeople are often presumed to be self-serving. Some of that reputation has been earned by the way some sellers have behaved. That said, it’s totally acceptable that a salesperson receives a bonus or commission for their efforts. Your incentive just can’t be the primary impetus that’s driving the purchase of your product or service.
Too often, sellers chase deals by focusing on the transaction. “When can we get a PO?” Or they ask, “Do you have all the approvals?” Sometimes, sellers just ask, “Mr. Customer, can we wrap this deal up by the end of the week?”
For those items where the value doesn’t get realized at the point of transaction, like in technology purchases, certain healthcare devices, or when implementing new financial programs, the actual value to the customer may not come until long after the purchase.
In those cases, the question that will ultimately determine the timing of your deal is:
Salesperson: “Ms. Customer, if we look past the purchase decision and transaction for a moment, if you do choose to move forward with this proposal, when would you like to start realizing the benefits we’ve discussed?”
Let me guess…your best sales presentations are the ones that end up being bi-directional, back-and-forth conversations between the salesperson and customer about how your product or service adds value…as opposed to a monologue pitch of features and benefits.
Some customers will jump into the conversation and actively participate. Too often, however, skeptical customers will sit back with their arms folded, essentially causing the presentation to fall flat.
A proactive salesperson can easily prevent this by using a question-based approach that brings customers into the discussion from the onset.
Salesperson: “Thanks everyone for taking time out of your busy schedules. In preparation for today’s meeting, I’ve had several conversations with Robert from Accounting and Lisa in Purchasing in an effort to understand your needs. Although I don’t yet know everything about your business, I have put together some ideas that I think will help.
Frankly, there are a couple of ways we can do this. One options is for me to simply deliver a generic sales presentation. We have lots of PowerPoint slides and I can talk for a long time. Or, we could put aside the standard ‘pitch,’ roll up our sleeves, and have a more specific conversation about how our solutions would impact your business.
Let me throw it out to the group…which would you rather do?”
If you can pause long enough to get an answer, in addition to choosing the more specific second option, they will also breathe a sigh of relief that they don’t have to sit through a standard sales presentation.
Tracking deals on the forecast is important part of any sales role. But, so is managing your sales effectiveness. Managing your selling effectiveness presents some challenges, because it tests your understanding of the softer skills and your ability to adjust to different selling scenarios. The payoff potential is huge!
Sample QBS Coaching Questions:
Q: What are you doing to leverage curiosity throughout the sales process?
Q: What’s your strategy for causing prospects to “want to” share information with someone they don’t yet know or trust?
Q: If the decision comes down to a virtual tie, what makes you different than your competition?
Q: How have you adjusted your sales approach given that prospects and customers are increasingly more standoffishness toward vendors?
Q: What are you doing to increase the prospect’s sense of urgency for moving forward?
For many years, our sales culture has put way too much emphasis on asking lots of questions, as opposed to giving salespeople a clear strategy for what causes prospective customers to “want to” share with someone they don’t yet know or trust.
It’s simple, really. If someone doesn’t want to share with you, it doesn’t matter what questions you ask. On the other hand, as they become more curious and begin to pereive greater value, facilitating productive conversation with potential customers is not difficult at all.