How the Right Questions Can Make up for Lack of Sales Experience

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 @ 07:08 AM

Last week, for the second year in a row, our son played in a 12U baseball tournament in Cooperstown, NY. Last year, he played with boys a year older than him and the tournament inspired this very popular article on the Top 5 Mistakes Salespeople Make. This year's tournament was special, it was exciting to be there, and a privilege for him to be on such a talented team. However, nothing could ever top last year, the baseball equivalent of showing up at Disney World for the very first time. This year, we knew what to expect.

On the trip back home, I didn't need to play racing legend Mario Andretti to get us where we needed to be on time. I kept it to the speed limit, enjoyed the scenery and for the first time, experienced stress-free driving. Not only that, I wasn't tired like I usually am during and after driving 4 hours.

What does this have to do with selling? A lot. Magic, racing and expectations are major factors in sales. We will discuss the role of each and how salespeople can be more consistent when they better understand those 3 factors and learn to manage them.

Magical - Sometimes, salespeople start an opportunity with all of the wonder and amazement of a first-time Disney visit. This can happen when the company is huge, the opportunity has more zeros than ever before, or the salesperson has an audience with a high-ranking, well-known executive. Unfortunately, wonder, amazement and intimidation are like the young child watching the Main Street Disney parade. They lead to an excited, emotional salesperson who will probably be unable to see the forest through the trees.

Racing Car  - Frequently, salespeople can't wait to reach a sales milestone they are comfortable with. That's usually a presentation, demo, proposal or quote. Consider that as well as prospects who declare that they have only 20 minutes. Either scenario causes salespeople to rush through their calls while they fail to ask meaningful questions, don't carefully listen to responses, and skip the follow-up questions. They are so focused on getting to the end that they don't relax and take in the scenery. They fail to uncover the compelling reasons for their prospects to do business with them.

Know What to Expect - There are some occasions when salespeople don't rely on their experience and instincts. Instead they fail to recognize that they have been in this situation, faced these challenges, or met with these kinds of people before. They need to realize that their prior experience has fully prepared them for this moment. When they know what to expect, the call will likely go according to their expectations.

Have you or your salespeople ever walked into a sales call to find people in the meeting that were not expected? Salespeople should always know, in advance, who will be in the meeting and what their role is. If unexpected people attend the meeting they should ask:

  • What is their role in the company?
  • What is their role in this meeting?
  • What is their role in selecting a partner (vendor, source, solution, company or product)?
  • What do they know about me?
  • What do they know about us?
  • What do they know about what we have already discussed?

Is there anyone who will attend the meeting or who is in the meeting that shouldn't? Is there anyone else that should? Are they in agreement with what has been discussed so far?  

Is there a potential partner that they favor? Why? 

What would you have to do in order for them to consider you?

Most salespeople never even think to ask these questions. Others gloss over them. But these questions are more important than a conversation about your capabilities.

If you ask the right questions, you'll know what to expect even when you haven't been there before!

Knowing what to expect and uncovering compelling reasons to buy are both crucial components of sales coaching. SellingPower posted this video of me talking about the essence of sales coaching. Want more? This is the last call for my top-rated, two-day event on How to Get the Most Out of Your Sales Force. The highlight of the two days is the best darn training you will ever attend on the right way to coach salespeople. If you want to attend, use SLI-DK-UTSF for a great discount.

Finally, the latest issue of Top Sales Magazine was published today and it features a lead article written by me.

Topics: Dave Kurlan, asking questions, Baseball, shorten the sales process

Selling is Like Rocket Science Until You Do These 2 Things Well

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 @ 08:03 AM

sofaWe were in the designer furniture store where everything is made to order, takes 8-12 weeks and the price of a chair starts at $2,500 US.  I was reading my Kindle when a woman walked in and began admiring one particular sofa.

A salesperson walked up to her and you'll never guess what he asked...  Believe it or not he asked, "Can I help you?"  I cringe whenver I hear that question but that's an article for another day. 

Of course the only possible answer she could respond with was, "Just looking."

Crucial point #1 - he could have approached her and introduced himself, learned her first name and asked why she came in today?  He could have asked what she liked about the sofa she was admiring.  He could have asked if she was hoping to find a sofa.  What he did ask could just as well have been,  "Ignore me because I'm a mindless robot who doesn't respect you or care enough about you or your potential business to make it seem like you are important."

Next, he said, "We just got some outdoor furniture in over here!"  Huh?  Outdoor furniture?  She's falling in love with a sofa and he's pulling her away to look at outdoor furniture?

She ignored him.

He's not stupid.  No, he's a moron and tried again.  "We have some really good deals on the outdoor furniture...."

She ignored a second time.  Good for her!

He walked away.  He was done!  Rejected.  He gave up.  Wasn't that easy?

Then her husband walked in and asked, "Did you find anything?"

She said, "I love this sofa but I can't find anyone to sell it to me..."

Selling isn't rocket science but it seems like rocket science until you learn to do two things really well:

  1. Listen.
  2. Ask questions that will get specific desired responses.

The furniture salesperson (yikes!) got the responses that his questions should have elicited.  Too bad.  The sofas started at $6,500!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, retail sales, asking questions, sales 101, listening skills

Top 5 Interesting Sales Tips

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 13, 2010 @ 08:12 AM

My mother-in-law of nearly 20 years has strong opinions.  Whenever she is shown something, told about something, or experiences something, one of her possible reactions is, "That's interesting."

When your salespeople explain your technology, methods, positioning, value added, warranty, or product differentiation to their prospects, and the prospects respond with "Interesting!"...what do your salespeople do?

Depending on the context of the conversation, weather, personality and the frame of reference of their prospect, here are the top five things that "Interesting" could mean:

  1. This is the greatest thing since sliced bread!
  2. This is so much better than what I've seen elsewhere.
  3. This is interesting - I'd like to learn more to better understand it.
  4. These guys might be on to something.
  5. I hate this but I don't want to hurt their feelings.

It took me about 5 years before I understood my mother-in-law and her use of "Interesting."  Turns out she only used it when she was thinking #5!  But she isn't necessarily representative of anyone else.  There is truly no way of knowing which of the 5 things they mean when they say, "Interesting" and I''ll bet that I hear "Interesting" at least once per day from someone....

I'll share what I do when I hear that...

I ask, "Can you help me out?  You just said this concept was "Interesting".  I'm not exactly sure what you mean.  I know that when my mother-in-law says "interesting" she means she hates it...what do you mean?"

If you want to make sure that your salespeople don't fall victim to happy ears, make sure that they clarify the use of words that can have multiple meanings, words that are vague and can be easily interpreted the wrong way. 

On another subject, The Ceremony for this Thursday's (December 16, 2010) Top Sales Awards will take place from Noon ET - 3 PM ET.  if you would like to attend this online event, you can register here.  Awards will be presented for:

  • Top Sales Article
  • Top Sales Star
  • Top Sales Book
  • Top Sales Blog (My Blog is in 2nd place in the popular vote which is worth 9 pts. The judges in this category will award up to 10 points for their choices and a winner will be determined on Thursday)
  • Top Sales Resource
  • Top CRM Solution
  • Top Sales Tool
  • Top Sales 2.0 Solution
  • Top Social Media Site
  • Top Sales Personality
  • Hall of Fame

You will also here from a number of top sales experts around the world as we share our opinions on dozens of important topics that face companies in the coming months and years.

Topics: sales management, Sales Coaching, asking questions, salespeople, sales development

Can Your Salespeople Sell More Effectively by Asking More Questions?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 @ 10:10 AM

QuestionsBy 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!

Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, Sales Coaching, asking questions, sales evaluation, SPIN, sales assessments

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader,  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog has earned medals for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for nine consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave

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