By now most executives understand the role and importance of questions in the sales process.
More questions? Okay.
Better questions? Sure.
Tougher questions? Makes sense.
Questions that result in the kind of conversations that none of your competitors are having with your prospects? Sounds great.
But can your salespeople do this? Yes, they can ask more questions but, without considerable training and coaching, over a period of months, those questions won't be better or tougher and won't result in those incredible conversations that your competitors aren't having with your prospects.
Selling by asking questions is hard. A list of questions isn't the answer. Left to their own devices, your salespeople won't be able to create the kind of questions that are needed. You might not be able to either.
As an example, I asked a group of salespeople to create a list of 12 questions that would uncover compelling reasons - tougher questions than they usually ask. As usual, I received questions to the ones they have always asked - commodity driven, lame, no different from their competitors.
Here is an example of one question and how it should be asked instead:
EXAMPLE: What kind of initiatives are you currently considering?
This is a good example of what salespeople from most industries do - they troll for opportunities which, when identified, are littered with competitors! Commercial Realtors and Insurance Agents are great examples of salespeople who consistently do this wrong, shot gunning for lease and policy expirations as the events that would allow them to book appointments - along with every one of their competitors! Those "opportunities" are ripe for price concessions and become bidding contests! Unless your salespeople are REALLY effective at asking tough questions to move to an earlier stage of the sales process and differentiate your company, you'll find yourself presenting, proposing, chasing and giving away margin - if you win.
Instead, you want your salespeople identifying problems that don't yet have initiatives, expiration dates or time lines attached to them. The problems, when exposed, diagnosed, explored, expanded and quantified, create urgency to solve those problems and your salespeople are now in an enviable position, as trusted advisers, to solve them. So what should your salespeople ask instead of the "what kind of initiatives" question?
How about, "in the area of _____(what you solve, not what you sell)_________, what is your single biggest frustration?"
Regardless of what you've been told, this is the foundation of Consultative Selling. An analysis of a random group of 2,000 salespeople from dozens of various industries, assessed by Objective Management Group this week, shows the following:
The average percentage of the Attributes present in the Consultative Skill Set (Consultative Selling) is only 33%. In one company, the top scoring salesperson had only 52% of the attributes.
So what can you make of all this? Asking questions is the most important of all the sales SKILLS and this skill is the most difficult of all to understand, learn, internalize, apply and master. Don't fool yourself into thinking that understanding and learning translate into application and mastery. Only practice, use, coaching and accountability will cause that to happen!