This RAIN Group Article was originally published on the InsideSales Blog.
Asking incisive sales questions is essential for success.
The questions you ask help you uncover buyer needs and desires, connect with buyers, and demonstrate your expertise.
By asking questions, you can discover the buyer's buying process, learn about the key decision makers involved, and qualify the opportunity. Questions allow you to ensure that you and the buyer are on the same page.
A lot of sellers do too much talking and presenting, and when they do ask the buyer questions, it's the same old "What keeps you up at night?" clichés.
Asking your buyer the right questions not only provides you with a treasure trove of important information, but it can also differentiate you from the sea of sellers vying for the buyer's attention.
To help you make the most out of your meetings, we've outlined different types of questions you can ask and why they're important to use in your sales conversations.
I recently switched financial advisors for both my business and personal finances. In order to make an informed decision, I interviewed three different advisors before choosing. The approaches taken by each of them both before and during the meetings were wildly different and greatly influenced my overall choice.
This article was originally published on the Sales Enablement Society.
Sellers often complain that it's impossible to get through to buyers. Gatekeepers are tough. Buyers are busy. Calls go to voicemail. Email goes to junk. The list goes on.
While getting through certainly isn't easy, sellers who work at it do get through. In fact, 82% of buyers say they accept meetings at least sometimes with sellers who reach out to them.
Consider this: a CBS News / New York Times poll asked, "What percent of people in general are trustworthy?" 1
The answer: 30%. We're all pretty skeptical, right?
Not necessarily. At the same time, the CBS News / New York Times poll asked a similar group the same question, but with a slight difference. "What percent of people that you know are trustworthy?"
The answer: 70%.
This goes to show: when people get to know and like you, people begin to trust you.
Of course, there's a lot more to building rapport and trust than making a positive initial connection with someone, but it sure is a good start. Having a strong connection with someone makes them more comfortable sharing their aspirations and their afflictions with you, two things you need to know about your buyer if you want to succeed in sales.
Broad, open-ended sales questions are great for helping you find out what's going on in your prospects' and clients' worlds. They are essential to sales success. In fact, "listened to me" and "understood my needs" are two of the top five factors most separating sales winners from second-place finishers.
Sales questions also help you connect with buyers personally, understand what's important to them, reshape their thinking, and create better futures for them. The importance of asking the right sales questions cannot be understated. (Hint: you need to ask more than "what keeps you up at night?")
Following are 21 open-ended sales questions you can use that will help you complete the picture of your clients' needs.
Sales are won and lost based on the conversations you have with your buyers.
You need to differentiate yourself in the sales process by asking great sales questions—questions that inspire buyers to think differently, talk about their hopes and desires, and build their relationship with you. Otherwise, your buyers are going to have the same conversation with you that they're having with your competitors.
In this on-demand webinar, RAIN Group EMEA Practice Director Ago Cluytens shares the specific sales questioning techniques and skills you need to lead the most effective sales conversations and close more sales.
Asking incisive questions is an essential part of any sales conversation.
Great sales questions help you find out what's going on in your buyer's world. They help you connect with buyers, understand buyer needs and what's important to them, and help you drive the sale forward.
In this guide, we share 50 of the most powerful sales questions you can use in your conversations.
Written by: Mike Schultz and Gord Smith
When it comes to selling financial services, professionals are usually faced with three common challenges:
The good news is that you can overcome these hurdles. There are specific things you can do in each of these areas to be more successful.
Technology sellers lament how impossible it is to get their buyers on the phone more than any other industry.
Phone is one of the top ways sellers say they connect with buyers, yet sellers in the technology industry report extreme difficulty using it to reach their buyers.
In our study on Top Performance in Sales Prospecting, we studied 488 buyers responsible for $4.2 billion of purchases and the prospecting habits of 489 sellers. We looked at results across buyer and seller sets, top performers, and industry. As part of our research, we compared how buyers prefer to be contact by sellers across multiple industries.
Email is one of the top ways to break through and secure meetings with targeted buyers. In fact, 80% of buyers say they prefer to be contacted by sellers via email. It's an essential part of any prospecting plan.
However, too many prospecting emails fall victim to common mistakes that kill response rates. Recently, we shared 13 email prospecting best practices. Here are 7 email makeover ideas to help you improve your emails and work toward those best practices.
In sales, you have a finite number of hours in a day. Most of those hours are spent on the immediate sales opportunities in your pipeline—those buyers who have a need they are looking address and a timeline to act. These buyers receive the majority of your time and attention, and rightfully so.
But what about the buyer you met at a conference or have had an initial sales call with that was "interesting" and "valuable" but goes nowhere? Or the buyer who downloads something from your website but is just "seeing what's out there?" What do you do with buyers who are a perfect fit for your company, but don't have an immediate need?
This is where lead nurturing comes into play.
Alison Brooks and Maurice Schweitzer, two researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted an experiment to induce varying levels of anxiety among negotiators.
One group was subjected to the not-so-melodious screeching strings from Psycho. The other group was treated to calming Water Music by Handel. After listening for a while, the groups were sent off to conduct simulated negotiations.
By: Mike Schultz and Jason Murray
After three months of talking and promises of moving forward, your fully qualified, enthusiastic champion is ready to pull the trigger. You send them a proposal and…silence.
It's frustrating when buyers go cold. Whether late in the process or after one good meeting, most sellers at least want to hear, "No," or, "Here's what happened," or, "I'm still interested, but something happened…"
Unfortunately, sellers often don't get the high sign from buyers, just the cold shoulder.
Before we cover tactics you can use to resurrect opportunities with buyers who go cold, it helps to understand why buyers go cold.
With increased product and service commoditization, sellers in almost every industry complain about price pressure and shrinking margins.
At the same time, there are some sellers and sales organizations who are consistently winning sales against lower-priced competitors and growing their margins.
Leaders at nearly every company we speak to agree that there is significant opportunity to grow their accounts, and they are looking for ways to capitalize on this opportunity.
In fact, growing your accounts is one of the fastest and most profitable ways to grow sales. The first and most basic step to growing accounts is reaching out to them to proactively create new sales opportunities.
The more sophisticated and advanced sellers become, the more they make selling about conversations and collaboration, not presentations and pitching. Even their presentations become interactive collaborations when done right.
Here's the situation: You get an introductory conversation with a great buyer—someone who fits your target profile to a T.
Not long into the conversation, however, the buyer says, "We already work with one of your competitors to do this."
What do you do next?
Everybody's brain has two different processing centers: emotional and rational. The emotional brain is old. It developed millions of years ago, first with raw instincts—like fight or flight—that all animals have, and then into more complex emotions for us humans like anger, aggression, desire, fear, hatred, passion, love, disgust, sympathy, and so on.
The first sales conversation with a new prospect can be tough. After all, prospects tend to distrust sales people, they're guarded with their information, and they're extremely busy. The fact that they agreed to meet with you in the first place is a great sign. But much of your selling success hinges on your ability to lead an effective first conversation and get them to agree to a second conversation with you.
I worked with a company recently whose sellers had to drive their own demand. In one case, a seller engaged a buyer in a discussion about an opportunity, and the buyer was interested. They had a few meetings, but then the sale fizzled out.
When the seller asked why, the buyer told him that they simply weren't going to pursue it further.
The seller said to me later, "The business impact story here was tremendous; more than a 10 times return on investment was easy to see. That this sale didn't move forward...I can't believe they just didn't see it."
We then talked to the buyer as a part of our analysis of the lost sale. When we mentioned the ROI case to the buyer and asked him about it, he said, "Oh, I saw the ROI case. I got it. I would have loved to achieve it. I just didn't believe it would come true."
The buyer saw the ROI; he just didn't believe it. There was too much risk.
Editor's note: We recently asked 5 sales experts, "What is the one piece of advice you would give a seller to help them exceed their sales targets this year?" The following is Mike Schultz's response.
"Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in." - Napoleon Bonaparte
I've seen more people intend to crush their goals than I have seen people actually crush their goals. They talk about how they're going to make it to the top. They read books and attend seminars. They talk a good game.
The world around us is shifting—in virtually every way. Savvy sellers have caught on to the fact that B2B buying behavior is changing as well.
"It was like a phantom swooped in in the eleventh hour and killed the sale."
We've all been there...You had a series of great meetings. You built rapport and developed a strong, trusted relationship. You uncovered (and got agreement) on the buyer's needs—needs that they didn't even know they had. You spent days working with your delivery team to scope the project and write the proposal. You sent it off to your contact and called him at the time you had scheduled to review it:
Years ago, I was working for a company that had just made the decision to go public. After a lengthy deliberation, the company chose a particular big-five firm (at the time there were five) to handle the preparations for our public offering. Curious, I asked the chief financial officer how he made the decision.
I received a call the other day from someone selling website tracking software. We already use a marketing automation tool like this. I mentioned it to the seller. He then went on a rant about how he visited our website, recognized the tool we use, and how we weren't doing it right.
How many times have you left a sales meeting and thought, "I should have said that..."?
Or, during a meeting, as you listened to what a prospect was saying, you thought, "That's not right; he will be making a big mistake if he goes down that path," but you never voiced your opinion?
A couple of years ago, I was involved in a major rebranding effort for a Fortune 100 financial services firm. Based on extensive research, their chief marketing officer decided their new brand positioning should be focused on "easier."
Easier to do business with. Easier to conduct banking transactions. Easier to get a mortgage, car loan, or business investment from.
In this quick video, RAIN Group President Mike Schultz discusses the difference between being unique versus being distinct from the buyer's perspective.
In What Sales Winners Do Differently, we studied over 700 purchases from the perspective of business-to-business buyers to find out what really happened in their buying experiences.
In our research, we looked at the factors that most separate sales winners from second-place finishers. These are the essential selling skills you need to find yourself in the winner's circle.
If your afflictions don't get solved, so what? What won’t happen? Will they get worse? How will they affect the bottom line of your company, division, or department? How will they affect your life?
If your aspirations don't become reality, so what? Will your competition get ahead of you if you don't innovate? Will you lose market share if you aren't aggressive in your strategy? Will you never be able to grow your business to a point where you can sell it and reach your personal financial goals? Will the promotion you desire continue to elude you?
Your ability to quantify the impact and paint the "so what" picture is the foundation for how important it is for the decision maker to buy from you. If you don’t answer the "so what" question, the initiative will fall to the bottom of the priority list.
Most of my clients want to have better meetings with senior executives. Meetings that feel like conversations, not pitches. Meetings that build deeper relationships. Meetings that uncover more ways in which they can help their customers.
Behind closed doors, when I ask what's holding them back, many will tell me things like, "I don't feel comfortable," "I have nothing to offer to them,"" or "I'm not at their level."
Selling to the C-suite can be difficult, and getting a first meeting can be a real challenge. But, in my experience, the most difficult part is not getting the first meeting. It's getting the second one. Or the third one.
It's keeping the relationship going.
It’s 4 PM on a Thursday. You’re about to meet the CEO of a large company you’d like to win as a client. The conversation starts as you walk into the office, approach the CEO, stretch out your hand, and say, “Nice to meet you, Jill. I’m Steve Webb.”
Fast forward 7 months later. It’s 3 PM on a Wednesday. You head into the office. Jill gets out from behind her desk and says, “Good to see you again, Steve. Here’s the signed contract for the initial $1.2 million. Let’s get started.”
Suffice it to say, a lot has to happen between “hello” and “let’s go.”
Yet two things are true. 1) This is how it happens. And, 2) how to lead sales conversations, influence your prospects to want to buy, buy from you, buy a robust solution, and pay full price for it confounds many people.
But it doesn’t have to.
How you run a sales meeting depends fundamentally on who set it.
Imagine for a minute you’re the COO of a mid-sized manufacturing company. You’ve been reading quite a bit about how to decrease costs in a supply chain. You do a little research and find supply chain consulting firms. You call a few that happen to be in your area and set up a series of sales conversations with them. In this case, you’re the buyer.
You are driving the demand.
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. - Benjamin Franklin
We acknowledge that sometimes you can't prepare for a sales call or—hallelujah—a prospect calls you out of the blue. It's reasonable to suggest that, on occasion, sales calls are appropriately deemed 'exploratory discussions'; the kind of discussion in which we just talk and 'see where it goes.'
Take this approach in most sales situations, however, and you'll lose more than your share of sales that you should have won. Interestingly, whether you have a two-thousand- or two-million-dollar price point, to increase your odds of winning new customers, you still need to do the same basic planning and know the same essential information before your sales calls.
Want to make more sales? Start by having better conversations.
Think about it. You spent months chasing a senior decision maker or prospect, making calls, and sending e-mails, and they finally agreed to sit down with you. You invested significant amounts of time, effort, energy and—sometimes considerable—resources to win them over.
And now you find yourself in a room with a senior executive. Now what?
Having spent two decades in the sales training and consulting world, I get asked all the time what I think about this or that sales approach or book. When I do, it tends to make for productive discussion and learning. Importantly, it helps people decide what’s right for them when it comes to selling.
Sometimes it’s just easy. You meet a person and connect. Conversation flows. You find common areas professionally and personally. Ideas bounce back and forth, and you start talking about how you can work on something together. Before you know it, work is under way, and the collaboration is the definition of one plus one equals three.
Sometimes it ain’t easy. You meet a person, and they’re all business. Getting them to engage with you in any sense is slow. Painful. You open up and share, provide great ideas, and work hard to get the other person to see the value in working with you. It should be plain to see, but it’s not. You’re met with aloofness and suspicion.
You try to engage on a personal level and ask, "How was your weekend?" His reply, "Fine." Then dead air.
"It's impossible to get serious face time with senior executives."
“Even getting 15 minutes with a senior executive can take 15 months.”
I hear things like this all the time from professionals, sellers, and other business leaders who want to get more time with decision makers, but haven’t yet cracked the code.
You're at an industry event mulling over which cheese will go best with which crackers at the buffet. The person next to you introduces himself. You introduce yourself. Then he says:
"So tell me, what do you do?"
(This post is the first in a series of blog posts on the new rules of selling.)
Win-win is a common negotiating philosophy. The idea is to find solutions that satisfy the interests of both parties, and maximize value on both sides. Since repeat business and referrals are so important in complex sales, employing win-win as part of your selling technique and philosophy should be a foregone conclusion.
Not meeting expectations hurts salespeople during the sales process... and foursomes that don't have a fourth.
Last Friday, I was looking for one more person to round out a foursome for a Saturday golf date. That evening I bumped into an acquaintance, mentioned we needed an extra, and he agreed to play.
|The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain how to get at the root causes of need so you can solve prospect challenges in the most permanent and helpful way. Read more about the book here.|
|The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr explain that to improve sales persuasion skills, the underlying components of influence must be understood and applied. Read more about the book here.|
Sorry it didn’t work out this time, but I have to say “no.”
The following is expanded content from our new book Rainmaking Conversations: Influence, Persuade, and Sell in Any Situation. In this piece, co-authors Mike Schultz and John Doerr stress the importance of continuous self-evaluation in your efforts to reach sales success. Read more about the book here.
Imagine for a minute you’re a master carpenter. You’ve been building houses your whole life, trying your best to hone your craft and deliver the highest quality work every day that you possibly could.
Willy: I don't know why - I can't stop myself - I talk too much. A man oughta come in with a few words. Charlie's a man of few words, and they respect him.
Linda: You don't talk too much, you're just lively.
Arthur Miller - Death of a Salesman
We all have sympathy for poor Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He knew he talked too much, but he couldn't figure out why. And he couldn't stop talking too much even though he wanted to be like Charlie, a man of few words, who was respected by all.
Let's face it. Salespeople talk too much.
And when sales people talk too much, they generate too few customers. So why do those of us trying to grow our pipelines constantly find ourselves in this position? Perhaps because, we do not understand why we talk too much.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ed Rendell when he was the mayor of Philadelphia. He was pointed and direct, quite different from the other politicians I have met over the years. So it came as little surprise when early this winter, Rendell, then Governor of Pennsylvania, called NFL officials “wimps” for canceling a game between the Eagles and Vikings due to snow.
It’s 4 PM on a Thursday and you’re about to meet the CEO of a major company you’d like to win as a client. The conversation starts as you walk into the office, approach the CEO, stretch out your hand, and say, “Nice to meet you, Jill. I’m Steve Webb.”
Fast forward to a meeting about 7 months later. You head into the office. Jill gets out from behind her desk and says, “Good to see you again, Steve. Here’s a check for $1.2 million. Let’s get started.”
Imagine you're a business leader, and you're considering buying a new technology that could help your business succeed.
You log in to the web presentation and, after a few pleasantries, the presenter starts in, "We started in 1978 by John Doe and have grown into the market leader in the space. We provide efficient effective solutions leveraging a unique combination of people, process, and technology to help you achieve results…Here's a sample list of our clients…Now let me log in to the software. It's all hosted online so you can login from wherever, whenever you need to…Over here is where you control admin rights of the users…"
Boring. Unfocused. Unhelpful.
At some point the time comes for every sales person to deliver a presentation. For some this may be early on in a demo of your product or capabilities, or to share a new approach to solving a problem. For others it may be later in the sales process as you present your proposed solution. In any case, delivering engaging sales presentations is a key to success.
A while ago at a conference I had dinner with two people. The first, (we’ll call her Janine) I had known since we worked together six years earlier. The second person (Ed), Janine and I had just met.
Janine described a sales challenge she was facing. She’d been working with two prospects at two different organizations, one for over a year and one for almost two. The typical sales cycle is 6 to 9 months, and these were both well beyond. She felt she was nearing a sale with both, but for all she knew, “nearing” might mean a year or two to go.
Tony Robbins, please accept my apology.
Many years ago, when I was a budding manager in charge of my first strategic business unit, I dissed you pretty badly.
I'm sorry. I take it back.
“If I could just get a meeting with my target prospects I am certain I could close five (or six or eight) out of every ten.”
How many of you think the same thing? You know that when you get in front of the prospect you can wow them. Every time a lead comes into the firm and you go on the sales meeting, it's a slam dunk. Made-in-the-shade. Can of corn. You know you'll get the gig.
Let's assume you set a meeting with someone you believe will be a good prospect. It's not from a referral – they neither know you nor have they heard of you beforehand. Thus there is no transferred trust as when you are referred in. It's also not from a client who's sought you out, thus there's no hot need. You targeted them, and you asked them for a meeting.
People with kids tell me that sometimes you have to let them fail, even when you could have jumped in to save them, so they will learn. Painful to sit by and watch, but necessary for growth. After being on the receiving end of an awful sales call last week, now I know the feeling.
Poor kid (he could have been 60 for all I know, but he seemed like a kid), started sinking from the get-go. Since I couldn't dive in and save him, the future parent in me is dying to share the learning with someone. So here goes.
While I will protect the name of the innocent, I have summarized my favorite (if I can call them that) 5 deadly sins that pulled him down like a pair of concrete shoes in the Mystic River.