While helping one company with some sales coaching, I spent some time with a sales rep who had been trying to sell laptops, tablets, and business software to one of her buyers at a healthcare facility for quite some time. Her frustration led her to put together a strategy to offer the firm several pieces of equipment to use for free, for a period of time, as a way to introduce her products to them. However, it was pretty obvious that the account hadn’t made a decision to buy anything, and the rep was getting real antsy to the point of being willing to give away something she should be selling.
Her agenda was for the buyer to purchase, once he was comfortable with the trial results. She felt that once her machines were used in the facility, the competition would be left out in the cold. The problem was that the buyer was able to use her machines without spending a penny and was in no hurry to conclude the trial.
I mentioned to her that if she would add a few buying made simpler questions at the beginning of the process, it might be helpful. Those questions would sound something like this:
- “What do you need to know about my firm to feel confident that we are the company that can provide the expertise and service you require?”
- “How will you know when all the players in your company are on board with this purchasing decision?”
- “What needs to happen internally at your company to minimize the chances for confusion and misunderstanding concerning this purchase?”
Regardless what selling system you use, it is always constructive to help buyers take into account all the issues that need to be considered prior to making and initiating buying decisions.
All I’m suggesting here is that you help the buyer align all the things that need to happen before the selling starts. These may include eliminating resistance to change, establishing budget timing, or coordinating plans among various departments. Just discovering needs is useless if the corporate system of your buyer isn’t prepared to change and accept your recommendations.
The buyer is still the captain, but you need to man the GPS. This personal attention adds value to what you do and will differentiate you from your competition.
Most salespeople squawk about long sales cycles, but usage of this technique can actually shorten these timeframes. This helps both you and the buyer get what you both want with a lot less drama. That said, let me conclude this post by inserting some balance.
Many of you have heard me parrot the old Chinese proverb that goes like this, if you tell somebody what you want them to do it greatly improves the chances they will do it. Well, when salespeople are trained to ask questions, asking questions is exactly what they do.
While attending one of Miller-Heiman’s workshops I learned that their sales training experts actually measured pauses between questions with a stopwatch, during large numbers of sales calls. You might be interested in the results they observed and published:
Often, reps were clocked at the rate of asking five or more questions each minute. After asking the buyer a question, sales reps typically waited only one second before either answering it themselves, rephrasing the question, asking another question, or making some other comment.
Conversely, after receiving a response to a question, most waited only one second before moving on to another point or question.
After hearing these results, it’s easy to see why the buying public dislikes the tactics of many sales reps. I use the term question fatigue as a descriptive way to visualize how easily confused and frustrated buyers can become when they are hit with these staccato bursts, without adequate time to think and respond.
Even when salespeople are properly trained in questioning, most just view the probing process as a rite of passage to a presentation, rather than a true needs-determining activity. They often ask a rapid-fire punch list of questions, without taking a breath between them, rarely listening to buyer’s responses, or asking additional probes to provide direction.
Part of the problem is that sales people are trained that dead air is a sales killer, so reps won’t tolerate silence. Also, reps think that if their mouths are moving, they are doing their job. Well, there’s a big difference between doing their job and a hostage situation, so why not simply slow down and ask one question at a time and then wait for the answers. This process should then be repeated as needed until the assessment is finished. As you begin to do this with regularity prospects will start to buy from you, rather than you having to sell so hard.
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