One sunny weekday afternoon in July, I decided to duck out of the office for a brief walk to enjoy the fresh air. A walking trail through a heavy grove of trees led me to a residential street where I heard music. There I saw two sisters operating what appeared to be a lemonade stand. Big sister, about six years old, earnestly waved her arms in the air to get my attention while little sister, about three years old, excitedly jumped up and down on her tippy toes.
Since I was across the street and completely void of money, I yelled over a greeting and asked what they were selling. Little sister excitedly bounced up and down on her toes while big sister confidently yelled back with a well-scripted and lengthy product description of some sort of vitamin and nutrient beverage with a complex name that I had never heard of. Her hard close was to say that she drinks it every day, and it makes her feel great! I was suddenly sentimental about Kool-Aid.
I called back across the street to say that I was so sorry that I didn’t have money with me. Little sister very sweetly, very innocently, and with conviction yelled, “That’s okay! You can have some for free!” The back of big sister’s hand came across the child’s arm fast and knocked the little one off her toes and back on her heels. Little sister got the message. It’s not free. I expressed my appreciation, promised to tell all my friends, and power-walked away.
The experience reminded me of how often sales professionals lead with information about their product or service in hopes that something will strike a chord with a prospect. Professional selling isn’t child’s play. It is a sophisticated process of gathering information about the prospect’s needs. To be successful, sales professionals should be inquisitive about a prospect’s situation. This requires strong questioning skills that explore wide and deep. For example, our young girls could have asked if I was thirsty. Ask better questions to get the sale.
Asking the right questions and asking enough of the right questions might seem daunting. People are busy, so there is a fear about taking up too much time. Speeding up with a dump of irrelevant information isn’t going to solve the problem. In fact, it’s the perfect setup for lies and put offs so the prospect can put an end to a meaningless encounter.
The starting point is to know the problem that our product or service solves and to acknowledge that we are not going to be the best answer for every prospect. Once the need is established, then the questioning begins. Sales Managers can contribute by working with the sales team to develop questions that will qualify a prospect. Better yet, develop questions that would disqualify a prospect and use them to validate that the prospect is, in fact, a good fit for the company.
Good questions get to the root of what would compel someone to make a decision.
Some topics worth exploring are:
Some situations require tough questions. Again, Sales Managers can lead to greater levels of success by working with their sales team to prepare and practice the tough questions needed to complete the qualification portion of the selling process. The payoff comes when the intelligence gathered is reflected in a comprehensive solution or proposal, making it easy and painless for the prospect to accept, thus speeding up the closing process. Tough questions get you the sale.
Now, the two little girls were successful in sales as it turns out. Big sister was waving a few dollars in her hand. Clearly there’s something to be said for having genuine enthusiasm and being adorable…but it can’t be counted on much past the age of six.