Written By: Stu Schlackman
It’s the early 80’s. The first sales call of my career. I meet a prospect for the first time.
Knowing the importance of gaining the customer’s insight first, I start by asking the usual sales 101 question, “what are you most important needs for this coming year?”
The customer’s response? “We need to improve our profitability 20%.”
Bingo – I got the answer!
Immediately I go into presentation mode about how our new computer system will solve all their needs and help them achieve their profitability goal.
Did they buy? No. Why not?
I got the most important information, right? Nope, I missed plenty since I didn’t have the patience to ask any follow up questions.
I highly recommend “Power Questions” by Jerold Panas and Andrew Sobel. The book gives many examples of excellent thought provocative questions to help you develop deep conversations with customers and personal relationships.
So the customer needs to improve profitability by 20%. How about this question- how did you arrive at that number – 20%? Next, what in your opinion could keep you from achieving that goal? We need to dig deep into the motive of the customer for achieving their goal. Is it for cash flow purposes? Is it to develop new products, therefore R&D needs the increase? It’s imperative that you have other questions ready to take you deep into the reasons driving them to these specific goals.
You’ll also want to understand their plans to achieve their goals. Have you developed an action plan to make that happen? Many times the sales person (as I did on this call) jumps to conclusions once they hear a need to be satisfied. They get excited about their products and services, yet they really don’t know the true need of the customer!
In chapter 26 the authors talk about the “why” question. They believe that you can ask a “why” question up to five times. This will uncover details that you might never discover otherwise. In the book, they share this example:
The VP of sales is meeting with a sales training company. The sales person questions whether sales training is the right way to go since the company is known for their outstanding sales team. The client has bragged about how great the sales team is, yet he believes its sales training that they need.
The sales person asks the first why question – why do you want to do sales training?
Answer- we need to continually improve the skills of our sales people.
Second why? Why improve their skills if they are the envy of the industry?
Answer: to improve their new client acquisition.
Third why? Why do you need to improve your new client acquisition efforts?
Answer: our existing customer base cannot support the growth targets our CEO has set.
Fourth why? Why can’t you grow your existing clients fast enough?
Answer: Total silence. Then…we are losing 20% of our existing clients each year. 20%?
Fifth why? Why are you losing 20% of your customers each year?
Answer: We are being undercut by our competition on pricing and I believe this is unsustainable. Neither of us can survive by doing this.
The bottom line?
The company executive held off on the training until he had a better understanding of all the issues with quality and service. Only then could he address the larger and deeper needs and priorities.
This sales professional helped bring clarity and focus by asking relevant questions, giving his client a place to start on achieving his original goal.
When in doubt ask the “why” question up to five times to get a better and deeper understanding of the true issues the customer is having. Only then can you offer your product or service as true solutions for the need.
Stu has spent over 25 years in sales management, sales and sales training with…
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