Tag Archives: qualifying

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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How to Find and Sell the REAL Buyer When You Get an RFP

by Geoff Alexander  www.alextrain.com

Have you ever received a Request for Proposal (RFP) that came from a purchasing agent (or buyer) from a company with which you are not familiar?

If so, do you do all the hard work to complete the request, then follow up with the buyer, or do you call first?

And if you do call, do you start with the buyer?

If you use my sales techniques to address this issue, you either will stand a very good chance of getting the business, or won’t bother wasting your time responding to an RFP that you can’t win.

The RFP may be legitimate, or you may be in a situation in which your competition has already gotten the business, and the buyer is using your response to gain ammunition to lower the price he or she will pay to your competitor.  I used to be a Purchasing Agent myself, and spun  the wheels of endless numbers of salespeople before I became a salesperson.  I’m going to show you how NOT to get scammed, using the same techniques I teach in my negotiation training course.

First Steps

When you get an inbound RFP, immediately go to your sales database, and see if there has ever been previous contact with your company. If you have previous historical contacts, begin by calling the contact with the highest title on the list, and begin your calling by asking if he or she has generated an RFP. By asking this question, you’ll be opening the discussion to determine what solutions are being discussed, and if a final decision has been made.

If there are no same-company contacts in your database, begin by calling high, usually to the C-Level whose responsibility falls within the solution you offer.  Mention that you’ve gotten an RFP from the company, and you need to get a few answers before you can respond.  In most cases, you’ll be referred down to someone at the Director level who is generating the initiative.

So why not start with the purchasing agent?

Because, in most cases, unless you’re dealing in commodities like pork bellies or sorghum, the buyer can’t give you the business.  Only the corporate sponsor can.

Will you be offending the buyer?

Not if you do your job well, and stay consultative.

When I was a purchasing agent myself, I routinely sent out RFPs when I needed to grind down my prime vendor on pricing.  I used to drive those poor salespeople through hoops and none of them ever bothered calling my Program Manager (who made most of the real decisions).  If they had, there’s a very good chance they could have swayed the Program Manager to change the decision, provided they had  superior solutions.

Only start your sales process with the purchasing agent if you’ve exhausted the techniques I’ve described above.  And then begin your call by telling the buyer that you need to talk with one of the sponsors of the RFP in order to craft an adequate response.  I’ve told buyers that there are technical questions I need to have answered before I can craft  a response otherwise I might be proposing the wrong solution. I’ve had good success with this technique, but I guarantee that the purchasing agent will not refer you if the final vendor decision has already been made.  And that’s why it’s so important to call the other people in the company first.

And if you get a purchasing agent angry at you for what you’ve done, simply state your company always talks with sponsors before filling out RFPs, and you do this to prevent selling a solution to the company that will prove inadequate.  Believe me, this works, because I have been a purchasing agent.

Summary

Use these techniques to take control of each and every RFP situation, talk to the people that are really making the decision and be wary of taking your valuable time  in responding to spurious RFPs.  Add them to your Best Practises playbook.

(This article is by Geoff Alexander who specializes in B2B inside sales consulting and training, teaching high-level concepts, appropriate for both senior and junior telesales reps.  Phone him at 408 292 3593 or visit www.alextrain.com.  Article taken from Art Sobczak’s,  The Telephone Prospecting and Selling, Report, February 2009. Visit www.businessbyphone.com  for more information)

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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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The 2 Most Stupid Questions in Tele-selling

Is there such a thing as a stupid question in tele-sales?

You bet your bottom dollar there is! Absolutely!

Questions are not unlike tools. You select the right tool for the right job. The wrong tool can make a mess of things. For example, using pliers to hammer a nail is an exercise in futility and self destruction.

It’s the same with questions. Use the wrong question and you can make a complete and utter mess of the sale. Here are the two stupidest questions to ask in tele-sales:

Stupid Question #1:Tell me what you like about your present supplier?

You might argue that this is a good question. Reps tell me that they learn what a client is looking for in a supplier. This is good information, they say.

Are you kidding me?!

Look at this question from another angle. When you ask a prospect what he or she likes about their present supplier, you get them to bask in the glow all the positives.  In doing so, they are reminded of the good relationship they’ve established. They are reminded of all the benefits they get from doing business with this firm. In some cases, you remind the buyer of all the reason he used to justified the use of this supplier.

So how can you possible get a wedge in the door when you’ve helped them articulate how fantastic their supplier is? You can’t. You’ve helped make them bullet proof. The best you can do is match them on benefits but in a ‘tie’, the incumbent always wins. Always.

Stupid Question #2: Is there anything you don’t like about your present supplier?

The logic here is that the prospect is going to gift wrap a problem and place it on your lap.

Like that’s going to happen!

It’s not. In a prospecting situation, rarely- very rarely- will anyone open up and tell you about a problem they are having. Look at it this way,  by admitting there’s a problem with the current supplier, the prospect might be admitting a mistake that she or he made. Who wants to do that? By admitting there is a problem suggests they haven’t done anything about it?

One more thing: no one wants to acknowledge warts and blemishes in their buying decisions or actions because it may reflect on them personally. Even if there are some problems, most clients will cover them up. And only in extreme cases will they raise their hand and tell you.

What to do Instead

To find out what the prospect might want in a supplier ask this simple question:

‘Tell me, great what are you looking for in a supplier, apart from a competitive price?”

Deal with the price issue right up front by tossing it aside. Now you’ve got the client thinking about availability, delivery, guarantees, selection and other value items where you might have some comparative muscle. Other good questions include: who are you using; how long have you worked with them; and do they use alternative suppliers for other products of a similar nature?

Summary

There are many questions that will provide good information that can lend perspective. Think before you ask but above all,  avoid asking these two stupid questions!

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Are you Guilty? The Top 7 Mistakes B2B Tele-Sales Reps Make

Using the telephone to prospect and sell is tough enough without making matters worse.  Here is a little of the Top 7 mistakes the most B2B tele-sales reps typically make.  Are you guilty?

1. Not Having a Clearly Defined Call Objective

When calling there are two objectives: the prime objective and secondary objectives. The prime objective is the #1 thing you want to accomplish on this particular call. And no, the primary objective is not always to get the sale. The sale maybe three calls down the line. Primary objectives could be such things as determining if budget is available, identify ALL the key decision makers, spending time getting to know the client on a personal level, learning more about the company.  Primary objectives are what you MUST accomplish. Finish this phrase: at the end of this call I want to ________.

Secondary objectives are things you would like to accomplish. If you don’t achieve them, no problem; perhaps some other time. Secondary objectives are ‘nice to haves’ but not necessary to have.

Knowing your objectives provides you with focus and concentration. They dictate your opening, questioning, presenting, objections handling and advancing at the sale. They make you work smarter, faster and more successful.

2. Winging it – Not Having a Plan

Winging it refers to picking up the phone and hoping you have achieve your primary objective (if you have one).  Planning a call means knowing having a decent opening statement that engages the client, having questions prepared, listing key points you want to make, noting an objections you might encounter and having a close or an advance. It takes less than thirty seconds.

3. Poor Opening Statement

Most opening statements are lame and typically, uninspiring. A good opening statement features a benefit that intrigues the prospect (or the existing customer) to tune in and listen a little longer. A good opener differentiates your call and increases your chances of achieving your call objectives.

4. Surrendering to Objections

Whether they come at the beginning of a call or at the end of a call, objections are part of tele-sales and should not come as a surprise. Yet many reps respond as though they have never heard someone say, “I’m busy right now,” or “E-mail me something” or “Call me next week” and simply surrender to the comment. Don’t quit so easily. Learn how to respond to the classic objections by using questioning to determine if the objection is legitimate or false.

5. Failing to Ruthlessly Qualify

Some reps are so dang glad they’ve reached a live person who is willing to talk to them that they immediately jump to the pitch or the offer. They babble like brooks and hope that something they’ve flung out there will stick. Smart reps use questions to determine key information and whether it is worth their time and effort to pursue. Ruthlessly qualify and determine such critcal information such as is there a legitimate need, who are the decision makers, is budget available, when would a decision occur or whatever else you need to continue the sales cycle.

6. Failure to Get Firm Commitment

Some tele-sales reps make the mistake of failing to get commitment to the next step of the sales cycle.  For instance, the client agrees to reviewing a proposal and the reps says, “Great, I’ll call you next week.” That’s vague. Getting commitment means two things: getting the client to agree to some sort of actions (a webinar, a tele-seminar, review a proposal, examine a quote etc.) and agreeing to a date and time for the next step.  For instance, “Okay Mike, I’ll sign you up for tomorrow’s webinar and what I’d like to do is recommend we set up Thursday morning to review your thoughts and determine the next steps if any. How does 9:15 look on your calendar for then?”

7. Not Being Persistent in Following Up

About 87% of tele-sales reps give up after one attempt at cold calling or follow up. About 97% give up after the second attempt. To avoid this mistake, you need to go beyond one or two follow ups. Think three, four or five follow ups spaces about three days apart. Use voice mail and e-mail. Be polite but be persistent.

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