Keys to Improved Sales Performance - Part 3 of 4

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Thu, Sep 04, 2014 @ 07:09 AM

professional selling

This is the third in a four-part series that will run this week.

See Part 1 here
See Part 2 here 
This is Part 3.

If you are like most folks, you were away for at least part of the summer, took as many long weekends as you could, and worked fewer hours on the days you actually did work.  As part of getting the work done, you deleted as many emails as you could where a reply wasn't required and visited fewer websites and blogs.

That means you missed a lot of what we were discussing this summer.  This series will catch you up in a hurry.

Four days, four categories, with related articles.  Easy.


The Selling Articles

While the majority of the 1,200 articles that I have written and posted on this blog in the past 8 years are about the sales force, sales management, sales leadership and sales recruiting, I write about selling more than I ever expected to.  Nowhere is this more evident than this summer, when I managed to write these 7 articles.

How Stealing 2nd Base is Today's Secret to Success in Sales 

The One Sales Question I've Been Wrong About for Years 

The 21 New Sales Core Competencies for Modern Selling 

What is the Best Sales Process for Increasing Sales? 

Rejection: Does Selling Cause More Anxiety Than Dating? 

Top 5 Mistakes Salespeople Make When Under Pressure 

Top 10 Mistakes Salespeople Make on the Phone (Funny Read) 

Tell us what you think, and share your opinions about how the concepts in these articles apply to you and your sales efforts.


Image Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo


Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales tips, sales questions

The One Sales Question I've Been Wrong About for Years

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Tue, Jul 01, 2014 @ 07:07 AM


I must be a moron.  Stupid.  Dumb.  Blind.  Certainly, I couldn't have been paying attention or it wouldn't have taken me 28 years to figure this one out!

For years I have been instructing salespeople to ask this powerful, game-changing question.  Instead of handling an objection, instead of saying OK, instead of following up, instead of explaining your position, instead of doing nearly anything else, I have asked salespeople to write down, commit to memory, practice and use this one question.  What is the magic question?  


No, not "Why do you want to know?"  "Why?" is the question.

The problem is that today, while writing a script for a client, it dawned on me that the question actually sucks.  Not because it's only one word, but because of what occurs when a prospect answers the question.

On the positive side, it provides a salesperson with more and better information from which another question can be asked.  All of the great reasons for asking that question are still there.

BUT...on the negative side, when a prospect answers certain "Why?" questions:

  • why the timing isn't right,
  • why the product or service isn't right,
  • why they are looking at 5 of your competitors,
  • why they are going with the lowest price,
  • why they need to think it over,
  • why they want to go in a particular direction that isn't favorable to you,
  • why you can't meet the decision maker,
  • why they won't share certain information,
  • why they won't reveal the competitors,
  • why they won't spend more money,
...they are actually supporting their previous statement, selling themselves and convincing themselves that they are right.  You are helping them to dig their heals in deeper, making it even more difficult to change their minds.
So what can you ask instead of "Why?"
How about one of the following?
  • What if there was a better way?
  • And you wouldn't consider another option.
  • Would you be willing to discuss alternatives?
  • Is it OK if I push back?
  • Can I ask you a question about that?
Don't limit your options to the five listed above.  Any question or comment is fine, as long as it doesn't help them reinforce their original position.  It's even OK to say (initially), "That's smart" and then follow-up with your next question.  Acknowledging their position shows that you're listening, and your agreeable response lowers their resistance.  That provides you with a better chance that your follow-up question will be more effective.
Image Copyright: maigi / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales tips, sales questions

Top 10 Questions for Salespeople to Ask and Stay Away From

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 @ 10:10 AM

assault rifleThe theme of my recent posts has centered around links sent by readers, asking me to weigh in with a counterpoint to the conclusions drawn in the  articles.  Today, I address yet another Harvard Business Review Blog article (how many misguided HBR Blog articles are there?), this one about the Single Worst Question a salesperson can ask.

The authors contend that "What keeps you up at night?" is the single worst question a sales rep can ask.  I can think of much worse.  The "what keeps you up?" question is inappropriate when asked:

  • at the wrong time
  • to the wrong person
  • in the wrong context
  • with the wrong lead-in or follow up
  • by a transactional salesperson
  • by a junior salesperson

Suppose a salesperson, trained to sell consultatively, meets with a senior decision maker. The issues are communicated so that the salesperson understands them, but doesn't yet know the compelling reason for the decision maker to change/take action/buy.  The salesperson should say, "I understand that issues A, B, C and D need to be addressed", and then ask, "What impact are these four issues having on you personally?"  If the salesperson learns that there is no personal impact, it is inappropriate to venture into the "darkness".  However, if the prospect talks about stress, pressure, time, money, staff, job security, promotion, etc., it should be, "darkness here we come!"  Then, it is not only appropriate, but perfect to ask, "And of those, which one keeps you awake at night?"  Followed by, "Why?" and "Tell me more about that" and "How would you feel if..."

It's not the worst question.  Oh no.  The question is more like an automatic assault weapon.  Very dangerous in untrained hands, but used for the right reason, at the right time, by the right person, with the right prospect, it uncovers the compelling reason(s) to buy!

So what is the worst question a salesperson can ask?  There are two:

  1. "Do you have a budget?"

  2. "When do you expect to make a decision?"

Objective Management Group's data shows that:

  • 58% of salespeople don't ask enough questions - whether or not they're the right ones
  • 53% aren't comfortable talking about money and can't discuss the subject when the answer to question #1 is "no" or "not enough"
  • 86% are too trusting and believe the answers they get to questions 1 and 2
  • 40% never identify the amount of money a prospect is able and willing to spend
  • 68% aren't with the person/decision maker who can actually answer the questions

Data aside, both questions trap salespeople in holes from which they cannot escape.  Instead, and only in the right context at the right time, salespeople must ask:

  1. Are you able to spend $________ in order to solve this $ ______ problem (or take advantage of this $______ opportunity) the right way, the first time, right now?"
  2. How soon would you like to have this problem solved?

Obviously, your salespeople must have gone wide enough and deep enough to know the problem or opportunity (compelling reasons to buy), and the cost (of the problem) or size (of the opportunity) in order to ask the first question.  Are they consistently effective doing that?

Asking how soon a prospect would like to have their problem solved shortens the sales process, whereas asking when a decision will be made extends it.  When a salesperson hears, "yesterday" as an answer to question #2, they should ask, "How do you short circuit the decision making process in order to get started right away?"

Reading the HBR article kept me up at night!

Topics: sales assessment, Dave Kurlan, harvard business review, sales tips, sales questions

Top 3 Sales Lessons from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker"

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Dec 20, 2010 @ 05:12 AM

nutcrackerIf you attend a Nutcracker performance or simply listen to some of the suite during the holiday season, one of the selections you'll hear is the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy".  Perhaps you can't match the music to the title, but I'm sure if you listen to the first 30 seconds of this version, you'll recognize the melody regardless of your religion or ethnicity.

Even though you've surely heard it before, can you identify the four primary musical instruments at the beginning of the selection?

In this version, you're hearing the glass harmonica, while most orchestral versions and performances feature the celesta, oboe, bassoon and flutes.  Can you hear them?

Just as the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" sounds familiar to you, your salespeople find familiarity in the sounds, questions, comments and discussions on their sales calls.  As much as you may not be able to distinguish the specific instruments creating those sounds in "Dance...", your salespeople may not be able to distinguish the credible comments and questions from the noise on their sales calls.

During a first sales call, suppose your salespeople hear one prospect say, "This has been a very interesting and productive conversation and we might have some interest in this."  And imagine another prospect at the same meeting says, "We'll get back to you next month and let you know what kind of progress we've made."  And still a third might say, "In the meantime, please send us a proposal with references and timeline."

Lesson #1 (based on Objective Management Group's data) - Of every 100 salespeople:

  • 70 rush back to the office to begin work on the proposal and tell their bosses that their large opportunity is very promising because all 3 prospects in the meeting were very interested;
  • 19 leave the call and make 2 entries in their journals - "propose" and "follow-up" - and they'll do both eventually;
  • 11 are still at the meeting, asking more questions.

Lesson #2:

  • Prospects' voices are like musical instruments.  Each instrument in "Dance..." has a specific role in the performance.  If the wrong instrument or notes are played or they're played at the wrong time, the entire selection is ruined.  Prospects' comments in the scenario above have different meanings depending on their business titles and their roles in the buying process.
  • If "please send us a proposal", "we're interested" or "very productive" are spoken from an Executive - the CEO, President or VP of something - it has a far different meaning than if the comment were to come from a buyer in Procurement.
  • When any of those 3 comments are spoken by a user - an engineer for example - rather than a buyer or an Executive, the comments may be far more genuine, but carry much less authority.

Lesson #3:

  • Sometimes it's more fun to listen to a song, symphony or simple melody and to figure out how and why the composer or arranger selected the particular instruments to play the particular parts of the selection.
  • Your salespeople must apply that wonder and analysis to their sales calls.  The prospect may be the composer (started the initiative), arranger (selected the vendors to talk with), director (charged with the initiative and conducting the process) or musician (following directions of the conductor).  It's the salesperson's job to figure out who they're dealing with, what role they play, what influence they'll have and how to get the various players aligned on the compelling reasons to buy and your ideal solution.

Homework Assignment - Return to Lesson #1 and answer 2 questions:

  1. Which of the 3 sales outcomes do your salespeople typically find themselves doing?
  2. Which additional questions do those 11 salespeople stay to ask?



Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales training, sales call, Sales Coaching, Nutcracker, sales questions

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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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