Tag Archives: open ended questions

12 Tips For Handling “Runaway” Talkers (Part I)

Runaway talkers are customers  who will talk your ear off.  I don’t mean those who chat two or three minutes but those that go on and on and on.

The Cost of a Runaway Talker

Of course, the real dilemma is that runaway talkers ARE customers – sometimes VERY good customers- and we don’t want to terminate the call and risk their discontent and possibly lose their business.  Consequently most telephone based sales reps ‘suffer’ through it and accept it as a necessary part of business.

But long winded talkers come with a cost.  They cost you time, money and opportunity.  Every moment you spend in idle chatter is moment you could have spent on new business development,  other customer calls, projects, paperwork, the whole gamut.  Runaway talkers can cause frustration and anxiety when you get behind on tasks and activities.  They can cause resentment if you have to work overtime or you miss a deadline or fall short on your objectives.

So it is important that you know how to diplomatically manage a runaway talker and get back to work.  Here are six tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Plan Your Call Before You Call

All calls should be planned but with runaway talkers you need to take a few extra moments to plot the approach to your call.  Determine the objectives of the calls. Prepare questions to keep the call on track. Expect their conversational segues and review the tactics below so that you can turn to them if and when needed.

Tip #2:  Use an Opening Statement that Conveys Time Sensitivity

Use your opening statement to establish a focus and a time limit up front before the talker begins to ramble. He or she will still talk but at least you’ve created a pre-text for concluding the call when the time comes. Here some good opening templates:

                “Gina, it’s _________ from __________. Gina, just a very, very quick call to check on ________.

This opening uses ‘very’ twice and is delivered with a faster than normal pace.  The idea is to create a sense of urgency; like you’re juggling a half dozen tasks, and that THIS call is going to be very quick.  Your words and tone reveal that to your client. Here’ another:

“Hey Mark, _______ it’s _________ calling from  ________. Mark, I have 3 quick reasons for my call today before I have to rush off.”

This opener alerts the listener to your agenda (3 reasons).  Again, the word ‘quick’ is tossed in for good measure.  The idea is that you have some specific things to accomplish and you’ve laid out the plan.  Speed up the pace of your voice. Here’s one more:

“Ron,  it’s ________ calling from ________ I wanted to touch bases before I leave for my 9:30 meeting in about 7-8 minutes.”

In this case, your caller knows your precise availability. The meeting is your excuse to terminate the call if necessary and since they were warned about it, it is easier to interrupt without feeling rude.

Tip #3: Do NOT Volunteer any Extraneous Information

Be careful to avoid the rapport building questions that will take you down endless verbal trails.  The  trouble with most runaway talkers is that they are generally very nice people.  When you say, “How was your weekend?” they dive right in, open up and tell you EVERYTHING about their weekend from Friday at 5:00 till Sunday at 10:00.

Similarly, when you say, “Hey, how ‘bout those Flyers over the Penguins?” you’re asking for long winded trouble.  If you have time, go ahead and ask but if it’s a busy day, avoid mundane questions.

Tip #4:  Limit YOUR Responses

If you’re asked about ‘those Flyers’ give a one line reply to acknowledge the remark and then move to a question to refocus the call.  “Yes, it was quite a game.  By the way Ron, did you get that proposal I sent you about the next implementation phase?”   Don’t make a remark about Sydney Crosby’s on ice behavior unless you want to chat about hockey for the next 18 minutes.

Tips #5:  Minimize Your Use of Open Ended Questions

Open ended questions are generally very good for selling situations.  With runaway talkers it can be their ticket to chatsville.  This is not to say you should not use open ended questions but rather minimize their use.

Tip #6:  Maximize Your Use of Close Ended Questions

In Tip #4, the rep asked a runaway talker a close ended question: did you get the proposal? It narrows the focus and reduces the client’s chance to open up.  Very quickly, follow up with another close ended question such as, “Were the quantities correct?”  “Was the price in range?”, “Would you like to proceed?”  Questions like these may seem a  bit abrupt but that’s what is often necessary.

NOTE: Runaway talkers can still open up and ramble on even if you ask a close ended question but using close ended questions helps reduce the tendency and helps channel the direction of the call.

In the next article you’ll find six more tactics to politely ‘manage and direct’ talkative clients and get you back to work.

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18 Phone Sales Skills Tips You Can Use Right Now

by Mark Hunter, The Sales Hunter www.thesaleshunter.com

It’s time to crank out a new list of phone sales skills tips.

It’s been a few years since I’ve shared with you phone tips you can use right now.

1. Your tone of voice matters more than you think. If your tone of voice is flat and lacks any sense of enthusiasm, how do you expect the other person to ever show interest in your call?

2. Use the person’s name. People always love to hear their name, so use it.  In a typical telephone call, I want to use the other person’s name (almost universally that means the person’s first name) three times.

3. Unless there is no other way, avoid negotiating anything over the telephone. Since you can’t see them, you don’t have the advantage of using body language as a tool to help you negotiate.

4. If you do have to negotiate over the telephone, use pauses and your tone of voice in the same manner as you would in a face-to-face negotiation. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into a quick negotiation just because you’re on the telephone.

5. Show the same level of respect to the gatekeeper or other any other person who answers the phone as you would show to the person you’re looking to talk to.

6. Use descriptive words that paint a picture when you’re talking. Remember, the other person can’t see you, so it means the picture you paint has to come with the words you say and how you say it.

7. Always have the person’s name and the name of their company on a piece of paper in front of you as you call. Last thing you want to do is to accidently forget who you’re calling just as they answer.

8. Limit the background noise. Some background noise if fine, but the last thing you want the other person to hear when you’re calling is loud music or the sound of informal activities going on in the background.

9. If the phone call is important, stand up when you make it. It’s amazing how much energy and focus you’ll have if you stand to make an important phone call.

10. Never be the first person to hang-up the telephone. Always allow the other person to disconnect first.  You never know when the other person might just share with you one more important piece of information.

11. Be quiet when the other person disconnects. Many times a person will think they have ended the call when they have not actually disconnected.  You might just surprise yourself with what you hear from the other end.

12. Don’t be distracted by email or other items popping up on your computer while you’re making a call. Be focused. Because you can’t see them, it’s easy to become distracted with your eyes.  Allowing yourself to become distracted may easily cause you to miss a key point.

13. Reaffirm everything. Again, because you’re only communicating with your voice means you must very reaffirm everything.

14. Use open-ended questions as a way to build the dialogue. Just because you’re talking with someone on the telephone does not mean you can’t use open-ended questions.

15. Don’t make an important telephone call from a telephone that is not stable, whether that be a cell phone with spotty coverage or a weak handset. Quality counts and it represents you.

16. Always answer the telephone with both enthusiasm and at a pace (words per minute) that allows the other party to know exactly who it is they’re talking to. Too many times people who answer many phone calls each day get into a habit of answering quickly, resulting in their words slurring together, making it hard for the other party to hear who they’re talking to.

17. Keep a mirror on your desk to allow you to see yourself talking. It’s amazing how much energy you’ll put into a phone call when you can see yourself.

18. Talk with your hands, as it allows you to convey more energy in your voice. Use a high-quality headset to allow you to talk with your hands.

Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunt” is a consultative selling expert committed to helping individuals and companies identify better prospects, close more sales and profitably build more long term customer relationships. To learn more visit his web site at www.thesaleshunter.com

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A Good Question to Ask Your Prospects

When prospecting, beware of taking information from your prospect at it’s face value.

It is important to pause and verify the veracity of the information by inspecting it from another angle. In other words, dig a bit deeper and get the prospect to elaborate. By doing so, you’ll not only position yourself as consultative, you’ll avoid making assumptions that lead you down the wrong paths.

Bottom line? Better sales results.

Misguided Information

Read the quotes below and ask yourself what are the implications. Assume the prospect is providing you with the information:

  • “Our sales are up 20%!”
  • “We’ve reduced shipping costs by 15% over the last quarter.”
  • “Our top rep got 68 sales last year. The next highest rep got 65.”
  • “We’ve increase our production of lancets by 400 units a week by adding another machine operator.”
  • “I get about 15 new patients every month.”
  • “We have about 5-6 accidents per year.”

You would probably agree that the way the information is presented in these examples makes the information appear positive.  And herein lays the trouble. Taken at its face value the information can be misleading and dangerous from a selling perspective. The problem is that the above statements lack any perspective whatsoever. For instance:

  • “Sales are up by 20%” sounds impressive but compared to what?
  • Is the fact that shipping costs are down by 15% really good or really poor?
  • The top rep got 68 sales but was the company expecting him to get 100?
  • Is the cost of adding a machine operator covered by the production of 400 units?
  • When a chiropractor states that he gets 15 new patients per month, is he happy with this?
  • Is 5 -6 accidents per year something to celebrate?
A Good Question

How do you get perspective? How do you assess this information to determine its relevancy?  You do this by asking one simple question:

“How do you feel about that?”

For example:

Prospect:    “Sales are up 20%”

Rep:            “That’s interesting. How do you feel about that?”

Prospect:    “That’s a good question. And the answer is not good at all. While they are trending up we are significantly behind on our objectives.”
Because we hear that sales are “up” the inclination is to believe this is good news but in this example, the prospect is not happy. Left unchecked, this statement could skew your entire approach to a sale.

Similarly, because we hear a decision maker say that costs are “down by 15%” we get the impression that the prospect has got a grip on cost cutting. But the opposite may be true. Without verifying this statement further you run the risk of missing a huge selling point.

The same applies for the other examples. Asking the client “How do you feel about that” will clarify each statement one way or another.

Why it Works

The beauty of  “How do you feel about that” is twofold. First, it is an open ended question. By their very nature, open ended questions get people to “open up” and elaborate. Open ended questions invite the client to provide you with more information by which you can judge the statement further.

Second, this question is absolutely rich in psychology! Everyone has “feelings”- one way or the other- about things. By asking the client how she or he feels about their remark invites a certain degree of personal speculation and assessment.  Most people are irresistibly drawn to give their opinions. The interesting thing is that often the opinions are subjective and perhaps even emotional in nature but they are powerful and compelling because of it.  Buying decisions are often made based on an emotion. If you tap the emotional element of a prospect, your chances of making a sale increase significantly.

It is in these evaluative statements that the true nature of the client’s comments resides. “How do you feel about that” forces the client to ponder the remark and build upon it.

Summary

“How do feel about that” is a multi-faceted question that can be used in a huge variety of situations. Keep it handy and use it often. It will provide you with more information and better information by which you can direct and channel your selling efforts.

Try it. It works. It’s a good question.

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8 Sales Questions You Can’t Live (and sell) Without

Make no mistake about it questions are the key to good selling. Good questions will get you good information. Good information helps you sell and sell more. But the real question is “what’s a good question?”

Here are eight great questions that you simply can’t live and sell without. By no means are they the only questions you can ask but these will do you well in every selling situation.

1. The Who Question

Never, ever assume that the person you are speaking with is the decision maker i.e., the person that can ultimately say “yes” (and no) to your sale. Your contact might be only one of a number of individuals that can influence the sale. It is important you know the players so that you don’t get blind sided and so that you can prepare strategies and tactics to deal with them.

The challenge however is to find out if there are other participants in the decision without putting your contact ‘on the spot.”  If you’re too blunt, the prospect might mislead you. Here is a simple, easy to use question that you can’t live without. Use it every single time:

“Amanda, apart from yourself, who is involved in this decision?”

Or here’s a variation: “Kevin, in purchases like these, there are usually several people involved. Apart from yourself, who else would have a vested interest in the decision?”

 

2.  The When Question

I am amazed at how many reps ignore this powerful and insightful question:

“Kathy, when do you see the final decision being made and delivery taken?”

“Mr. Woods, if this were a go, when do you see it occurring?”

The ‘when’ questions is important because it helps assess urgency.  A decision that will be made within a week has a little more impact than a decision that will be made in three months.  Knowing when the sale might conclude helps you set priorities, determines the time and effort you devote and dictates your follow up strategy. All in all, the when question makes you a wiser sales rep.

3. The Scenario Question

Discovering a prospect’s needs can be challenging in the early stages of selling. Because prospects don’t know you they tend to be much more reserved in the information they provide. Many are not comfortable telling you about their “warts and blemishes” (i.e., their needs, challenges, weaknesses and concerns) until some rapport and comfort has been established.

One of the best ways around this hesitancy is with a scenario question. As the name implies, the scenario questions paints a scenario that addresses a problem or a concern but doesn’t put the prospect on the spot.  Here are a couple of examples:

 

“Ms. Bixby, much of our research with our clients shows that cash flow is sometimes an issue particularly with the fluctuating price of oil.  Let me ask you, what has been your experience with cash flow over the last year or so?”

 

“Scott, we are getting more and more feedback from IT Directors and managers from large corporations regarding the misuse licensing agreement. It’s creating some concerns about compliance. Let me ask you: what has been your experience with this so far?”

 

The scenario question is based on the premise that ‘misery loves company.’ You want the prospect to think “Gee, if others are experiencing the same thing then its okay for me to open up.” Master the scenario question and you’ll get to needs quicker which reduces the sales cycle which helps you convert more sales in less time.

4.  The Net Impact Question

Even if you use a scenario question and the client opens up to you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the prospect’s need is strong enough to act upon. . .at least in the client’s mind.  One of the best questions you can ask to determine the “depth and breadth” of a need is “net impact” question. Here are two versions:

“So what’s the net impact on your firm when cash flow is tight?”

 

“What’s the possible net impact if licensing agreements are abused in your branch offices?”

This “net impact” forces your prospect to think about the rippling effect of a problem. It gets them to do some analysis. In effect, you want them to say “Gee, I never thought of it like that.” Suddenly, seemingly minor problems can be more significant.’ Or, you’ll learn the net impact is absolutely minor. That’s good too because it means you should not waste your time here. Move on. Because the question is opened end it gets your client to expand and elaborate. You get information and information is power. You simply can’t live without net impact questions.

5. The Explain Question

Do you want a versatile, ‘catch all’ question that can be used in many different scenarios?

If so, here it is. It is less a question and more of a directive. No matter how you slice it, it gets the client to open up. It enticingly invites your client to speak up, expand, pontificate, ruminate, elaborate and articulate. For instance, suppose the prospect tosses the classic price objection. Say this:

‘Eric, could you ‘explain’ to me what you mean by too high?”

What a great question! You’re asking for elaboration. Is the price too high relative to budget? Or relative to a competitive bid? Or is it a smokescreen? Regardless, the client must open up.

Suppose your client says “We’re not all that happy with flux modulators.”

“Wendi, could you explain to me why you’re not happy?”

How easy it that. This is a buying signal. Exploit it. Suppose the prospect say, “Well, I’d have to go to committee with that proposal.”

“I understand completely. Joel can explain to me how the committee operates and how they go about evaluating a proposal?”

 

Suppose you’re probing for needs. Here’s what you can say,

 

“Ms. Giuliani, explain to me the challenges you’re experiencing in penetrating the Canadian market.”

 

Dare I say you cannot possible sell without this question ready and waiting?

6. The Make Sense Question

You might want to call this a ‘trial close.’ Keep it handy because you’ve use it a lot.  Use this simple, close ended question during and after pitch your product or after you’ve tackled an objection. So, for example, suppose you have presented a financial planning strategy regarding mutual funds. Just ask,

“Does that make sense to you so far?”

“Am I making sense to you right now?”

Now, this question does a couple of things. First of all, it tosses the conversation back into your prospect’s lap. This creates ‘give and take’ dialog and forces you to relinquish control of the call. This is s a good thing because it stops you from rambling on.

The second thing is does it helps you gauge if the client is on board or not. To make this happen you’ve got to listen to the words and the tone of your client. If your prospect says, “Ya sure, I guess” but with a vague and uncertain tone, clearly it does not make sense. You need to stop right here and reverse gears by saying, “It sounds like I may have confused things a bit and I sense some hesitancy. Can you explain to me what you’re thinking?” (Notice the versatile “explain” question)

On the other hand, if the client gives you a positive and enthusiastic remark, “Ya, it makes total sense” they have, in effect, given you a buying signal which says, “Go on, I like what I hear?”

Don’t be afraid to liberally pepper your sales call with “make sense” type of questions. Variation include, “do you follow?” “How does that sound to you?” “Am I on the right track?”

Does that make sense to you?

7.  The Removal Question

Here’s a question that every rep should keep in their hip pocket and use when dealing with objections and concerns. The Removal Question simply and efficiently ‘removes’ the issue at hand and asks the client their thoughts based on that scenario.  Suppose a prospect says, “It’s really great but it’s just not in our budget.” You reply:

Fair enough Brandi. Let me ask, if budget was not an issue, would you proceed with the proposal as outlined.”

If Brandi says yes, then you can negotiate or come up with terms or arrange financing or do whatever because her objection is not a smokescreen but the real thing.  If she says, “Well, ya. . .but I am also a little concerned about maintenance program” you’ve discovered that it’s not a budgetary issue or that budget is only part of a number of issues.

Suppose the client says, “Well, I have to go to the buying group on this one.” You say, “I understand. Steve, suppose there wasn’t a buying group, what would be your decision?”  By removing the objection you can determine if Steve’s on board or not.

Either way, you are well on the way to handling the client’s issue.

8. The Try Question

It’s time to close the sale. One of ABSOLUTE THE best questions to close the sale is this:

“So, Angie, would you like to give it a try?” or

 

“Why not give it a try?”

I stole this question from Jeffrey Fox, author of “How to Become a Rainmaker.” He calls it a “killer sales question” and he’s right. I use it now and I cannot sell without.

Why?

Because, as Fox explains, to most people ‘try’ is a revocable act and a decision that can be reversed. It sounds and feels temporary or impermanent. Fox concludes that people feel that to try something is a sample or a test, not a commitment to buy. But in reality, they either buy or they don’t buy. There is no “try” buy.  But, psychologically the prospect has an easier time making the decision to say yes to the purchase.

It’s brilliant and it works!. Try it. You’ll like it. (Sorry, couldn’t resist)

Summary

These are eight of the best selling questions of all time. This is not because I say so but because millions of sales reps have gone before you and tried these. They are classic and they work. You will sell better and sell more when you use them.

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Make Friends with Closed Ended Questions

Closed ended questions are much maligned and it just isn’t fair!

How many times have you heard sales trainers and managers harp on the inadequacies of closed ended questions? They tell you that they don’t invite 2-way dialog, that the client feels interrogated, that it can lead to too many no’s.

Sure, if used incorrectly, a closed ended question can be detrimental to a sales conversation.  But used incorrectly, an open ended question can be equally have a negative impact on a call.  They can annoy the client, make them impatient, make them wonder about the relevance and tarnish the professionalism of the tele-sales rep.

So it’s not the question, it’s the questioner.

Having said that, let’s look at fundamentals of closed ended questions.

The 2 Types of Closed Ended Questions

For the sake of clarity, closed ended questions are short answer questions, not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. If you ask a prospect how many printers they have, you are asking for a definitive answer not for makes and models. Having said that, there are two fundamental types of close ended questions

The Fact Confirmation Questions

Fact confirmation questions are designed to gather specific data or facts.  They help clarify, confirm or verify information.  For instance,

How many printers do you have?

Are they color or black and white?

Do you use electro medical devices in your practice?

How many patients do you have?

Do you have an assistant?

Who is your current supplier?

Have you completed your continuing education credits for this year?

How much time do you spend preparing?

Will you ask your IT people about that?

Would you care to attend our webinar?

Are you finding that challenging?

Depending on your industry or your situation, these are dang good questions to ask!  They give perspective and help you evaluate the situation.  So go ahead and ask them.

But what you don’t want to do is ask more than three of them in a row.  When you ask three consecutive questions, people get uncomfortable because they are not fully participating.  When you ask five consecutive closed ended questions they ARE uncomfortable.  Beyond that they are disengaged and will typically terminate the conversations.

So here’s the thing: be conscious of this fact.  Think before you ask.

The Directed Questions

The second type of closed ended question is that which directs the client’s thinking.  For the most part, they are designed to elicit a ‘yes’ response. For example,

That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

That’s a fair assessment, correct?

That’s easy, right?

Doesn’t it make sense to give it a try?

Isn’t it time consuming to …?

Wouldn’t you like the system to run faster?

More passive income makes sense, doesn’t it?

These can be highly effective questions because, if used correctly, they illicit a positive response.  They are almost rhetorical in nature but they get the client to see the obvious or reasonable nature of a comment. It gets the client to acknowledge the logic of your statement.

But there is an added bonus; they act as a trial close.  It tells the questioner if they are on track. Listen carefully to the reply. If there is a trace of doubt or scepticism, deal with it right then and there. Say something like, “John, I hear a little uncertainty in your voice.  Can I clarify something for you?” (Nice closed ended question, eh?)

Of course, directed questions can be abused as well. For instance, “you want to save money don’t you?” Everyone wants to save money. If delivered carelessly, this question can sound patronizing. So watch your tone.  And too many directed questions can trivialize your point by simplifying things…

Summary

Closed ended questions used smartly can garner information. Closed ended questions can direct a sales call to a positive conclusion. So don’t avoid them.  Make friends with closed ended questions today.

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7 Steps to Better Listening …and Better Tele-Sales Results

The telephone has one major drawback when it comes to selling: you can’t see your client.

This makes communicating somewhat more challenging.  For example, with face to face selling, body language constitutes about 55% of the message. What this means to those of us who use the phone is that we MUST be a better listener. In effect, you need to overcompensate to pick up the nuances and details of the calls you make. Using the acronym SPECIAL here are 7steps to improving your listening skills

1. Stop – When you make or take a call, stop whatever you are doing and give 100% of your attention to that call. Stop overlapping. Stop toying with your computer. Stop finishing up that last proposal or quote. Turn your head away from the everyday distractions in the office and focus on the call. Period.

2. Prepare – Be prepared for the call. Complete a pre call planning sheet before you pick up the phone so you know precisely what you want to achieve and how. In particular, list key question that you want to ask. This simple step will help you listen more careful because you won’t be thinking “What do I ask, say or do next?”

3. Evaluate – On the phone clients communicate on two levels: the words they use and the tone they apply. In fact, on the phone tone accounts for about 84% of the message content. Listen and evaluate for interest (buying signals), listen for doubt or uncertainty (objection), listen for confusion or disinterest (pauses).

4. Concentrate – Actively listen. This means when you ask a question, zip it. Let the client answer. Let him elaborate. Don’t interrupt. Listen for the key points that he is making. Avoid the temptation of preparing your rebuttal in your mind. Avoid the temptation of developing your next question instead of hearing the answer that is being given.

5. Investigate – Interactively listen. This means asking questions AFTER you’ve heard the answer. Use questions to clarify, verify and confirm information. If you are not certain of something, ask about.

6. Acknowledge – One of the best ways to listen is to summarize what you’ve heard and repeat it back to the client. “So Greg, if I understood correctly your company is …” If you’ve got something wrong the client will tell you. If you are on track they’ll confirm it. Either way YOU look good and you’ll sell more.

7. Log it – Put another way: listen with a pen in hand. Take notes. Jot things down as you ‘actively’ listen so that you can go back and clarify. Note taking seems to be a lost art. Use a pad of paper or better yet, your pre-call planning sheet to record key point.

Listening is not that difficult if you follow these seven steps. And if you listen well, you’ll sell well. So just do it!

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