Questions That Sell

The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants

 Questions That Sell

Author: Paul Cherry
Pub Date: April 2006
Print Edition: $16.95
Print ISBN: 9780814473399
Page Count: 192
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814429471

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The world is running at a faster pace than ever before and we as salespeople must constantly adapt to new situations. In the present climate customers do not want to spend a lot of time building relationships with salespeople. They want quick and easy solutions at the cheapest price. Technological advances have forever changed our world; now that customers can do business with companies all over the globe they do not need expert salespeople. Instead, customers can get instant access to information on the Internet or from the hordes of salespeople that call them each day. Instead of trying to be the customer's friend, you as a salesperson need to cut to the chase and offer the best deal or you will lose out every time!

These statements are misguided. The idea that our world is fundamentally different from the world of 1980 or 1950, or even 1900, is ludicrous. Dale Carnegie wrote his book How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1938 and it is still a staple in bookstores today! We might have different technologies now than we did twenty years ago, but the people we do business with have not changed. If you do not remember anything else you read in this book, remember that! People are still people no matter what year it is.

If we look back in history we will see that every generation has believed that theirs was the one that revolutionized the world. When cars were invented, everyone assumed that life and the relationships that make it up would be changed forever. (The same is true for electricity, television, airplanes, and computers.) People believed that automobiles would cause personal relationships to disintegrate as people were free to travel hundreds of miles away from family and friends. In the end, though, the importance of real relationships has not diminished, and I contend that it never will.

How can I make such a bold statement? I have learned through years of sales and consulting that there are two types of relationships: superficial and substantive. Superficial relationships are characterized by chitchat about the weather, golf, and other neutral topics; these relationships are built on casual exchanges and they lack any real depth. An example of a superficial relationship is when you meet a client who went to the same college as you did. There are a few minutes of shared memories and bonding over this coincidence, but this does not change the way you two do business. The second type of relationship is the substantive relationship, which is characterized by mutual benefit.

I ask salespeople in my seminars to describe the word relationship. The usual responses include descriptors such as trust, rapport, honesty, and understanding. Although these are admirable qualities to pursue with prospective clients, they are not what most clients are looking for. When customers are asked to define relationship in a business situation, they discuss things such as how a salesperson can bring value to their companies. The Gallup Organization conducted a major study of 250,000 sales professionals, the results of which were published in the book Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World's Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers by Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano. They found that there was little if any correlation between having good people skills and achieving success in selling. I'm not claiming people skills are unimportant in selling--they are. But developing meaningful relationships is more than being friendly. A true business relationship requires you to ascertain a customer's visions, desires, fears, and motivations, and that means asking good questions--questions that engage your customers--and to channel that energy into action.

In this kind of relationship, you as the salesperson are not solely concerned about making money or closing the deal; rather, you want to help the customer in three key ways:

1.Minimizing the customer's risk. This is done by eliminating a customer's fears (about spending too much money or buying a product that will malfunction) and making certain that the customer can hold his head up high after purchasing your product for his company. If your customer can sleep well at night because of his dealings with you, he will definitely want to do business with you in the future.

2.Enhancing the customer's competitive standing. Customers, like all businesspeople, want ultimately to move ahead. If your product can make them look good in front of their colleagues and serve as a step up the corporate ladder, you will definitely earn a place at the bargaining table.

3.Achieving the customer's goals. A salesperson who can provide a solution that will increase profit or decrease cost is irreplaceable. If you can help a customer achieve her dream of taking her company to the next level, you will not only be a salesperson; you will be a true partner.

What do all of the above have in common? In every instance you, as the salesperson, are earning your place and achieving results in order to establish a relationship. Substantive relationships do not appear out of the blue; they are cultivated by hardworking salespeople who understand that the key to achieving success is establishing real value in the eyes of the customer.

For too many years so-called sales experts have been preaching the values of relationships without defining them. Most have argued that salespeople need only to "build rapport, honesty, and trust" in order to further their business ends. These are the characteristics of a friendship, though, and they do not necessarily build a successful sales relationship. Customers do not want to "make friends"; they want to see results and substantive relationships provide those.

Do These Questions Really Work?

As a consultant, I deal mostly with salespeople who sell products and services in the business-to-business market. This means two things: The lessons I am teaching you have been tested and used by thousands of top-earning salespeople in the country. These techniques work, but they take time and effort to learn. If you are looking to create and sustain lasting business relationships with your customers in a way that sets you apart from everyone else in your industry, then you will no doubt benefit greatly from the advice I have to offer.

An excellent salesperson not only must be an expert in her field but also must be willing to embrace the role of "business shrink." What do I mean by "business shrink"? This is someone who can discover the workplace frustrations of a prospective customer. By allowing the prospective client to express his aggravations, a salesperson creates an opportunity in which the client realizes the need for change and seeks out the salesperson to provide a solution. For example, prospective clients often experience difficulties with long hours, an unusually demanding boss, or a vendor that is continually late with deliveries. A salesperson acting as a business shrink can unearth these problems by asking good questions and listening to the answers. Once a salesperson has established her trustworthiness and willingness to listen, prospective clients will feel more at ease revealing their troubles and asking for help.

Why These Questions?

By using these techniques you can make the questions you ask prospective clients more powerful, engaging, and effective. Asking better questions will:

* Motivate your prospective customers to do the talking. This requires that you fight your instincts to demonstrate all of the knowledge you have about your product or industry. Instead of boring a prospective customer, get her to open up to you by asking intelligent questions and then listening to her answers. Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, states that you can make a more significant impression on another person in ten minutes if you show interest in that person than if you were to spend six months talking about yourself. Asking good questions will make your prospective clients feel important.

* Differentiate yourself from your competitors. Studies have shown that 90 percent of seasoned sales professionals do not know how or are afraid to ask good questions. If you learn how to ask good questions, you can automatically set yourself apart from your competition.

* Demonstrate empathy for your prospective customers. By establishing yourself as someone who will listen to problems and frustrations, your clients will be eager to talk with you. In our society, we tend to be impatient when discussing problems--we often want to jump to the solutions. Your prospective customers, however, need first to recognize and understand their problems before they will accept their need for assistance. By creating an environment where a customer feels you understand him, you will gain access to information you would otherwise not be privy to.

* Facilitate a prospective customer's awareness of his needs and help him come to his own conclusions. Even if it seems clear to you, you cannot tell your prospective customer what his problems are; you need to help him go through the process of discovering for himself the problems and then he will look to you for the solution. Even those prospective customers who are aware of their problems need you to ask good questions in order to bring that pain to the surface. The frustration and other feelings that go along with the problems they have encountered will motivate your prospective customers to act, but only if you pinpoint those concerns by asking good questions.

* Prompt a prospective customer to recognize the importance of taking action. Once a prospective customer has uncovered her problems, she will not be hesitant to talk about possible solutions. In fact, she will be eager to discuss how you can help because she will have realized the need to rectify the situation.

* Discover how a particular company makes a purchasing decision, as well as whom the decision makers are within the company. All of the questioning techniques you are about to learn will not do you any good if you are talking to the wrong person. By asking good questions and allowing your prospective customers to talk, you will be able to find out who makes the purchasing decisions and how those decisions are made within each particular company. Without this knowledge, all of the relationship-building techniques will be useless.

Bring to the forefront any potential obstacles that might hinder a potential sale. Asking good questions lets you in on the concerns of a prospective customer and his reservations about a purchase.

What Do I Expect from You?

Building real relationships takes time and energy. You should imagine your sales repertoire as a toolbox in which you already have the basics. As you learn the different question types presented in this book, you will be adding new, specialized tools to the existing set. Once you have added these tools, however, you must remember to use them correctly. For example, if you try to remove a screw with a sledgehammer, you will not make much progress and you might ruin the wall while you are at it. Instead of jumping in with the first tool you see, take time to assess the situation and plan the best course of action. If you use the strategies in this book halfheartedly, they will not be effective; the various types of questions need to be carefully arranged and crafted for individual customers and salespeople. Once mastered, that time will be recognized as well spent when you see the results of all your hard work.

I have included exercises in almost every chapter of this book. These exercises will reinforce the practices I share and will allow you to perfect your questioning skills before you use them. It is important that you complete these exercises; otherwise you might not be able to fully grasp the various techniques. Also, it will be exceedingly difficult to digest all of the material in one sitting. I suggest instead that you set aside time to read each chapter at a time and do the appropriate exercises. Then go back and read the chapter once more to ensure that you understand how and when to use that type of question. If you spend the time learning how to use my questions of engagement, I have no doubt that you will succeed beyond your expectations.

What Sorts of Problems Are Addressed in This Book?

All of the problems and hurdles you experience each day as a professional salesperson will be tackled in this book. Here are just some of the most common issues that I discuss in the following chapters:

"I have trouble getting my foot in the door."

"Prospects are in a rush for information but want to wait on taking action."

"Customers say they value service but expect the lowest price."

"I feel like I am wasting too much time on opportunities that go nowhere."

"I get pushed down to deal with non--decision makers."

"I am ready to close the deal and then something comes up at the last minute to screw it up."

"All of the prospective customers I contact say they are not looking for new vendors, but I know they are not

happy with what they have now."

"I cannot seem to get the right person."

"My presentations fall on deaf ears."

"They are always telling me they don't have the money to make a purchase right now."

What Will I Find in This Book?

At the most basic level, this book shows you how to ask questions that will get your customers talking. Salespeople are often afraid to let their customers talk. They fear that if a customer takes the conversation in the "wrong" direction, they will lose control and ultimately lose the sale. This could not be further from the truth. Customers have so much information they are just dying to divulge, if only we would give them the chance! When you use the questions of engagement you learn that you can control the direction of the conversation while allowing your customer to have the floor. Research has shown that during typical business interactions customers reveal only 20 percent of what is on their minds; as a salesperson who engages customers, it is your responsibility to get to the other 80 percent. Using my questioning techniques will enable you to unlock that information and in turn present your customers with tailored solutions that go beyond their expectations.

The book begins with a self-evaluation of the typical questions you should ask prospective customers. You will learn by examining those questions that many of them do not produce the desired outcome. After this exercise you will slowly rebuild your repertoire with new types of questions that not only will inspire conversation but also make you stand out from the crowd. All of the question types that I discuss in the book will enable you to communicate better with your customers. They will also serve to help build that business relationship that keeps your customers coming back for more.

At the heart of this book lies my belief that customers overwhelmingly respond to salespeople who express an interest in their businesses and their lives. As I say many times in the book, this does not mean that you should insist on engaging in idle small talk about sports, the weather, or other banal topics. What it does mean is that you need to cultivate real, strong relationships with your customers to make certain that their needs are met. This can happen only when you listen to your customers and really hear what they have to say. At times this might mean simply sitting there while a customer rants about your company's poor service or unreliable delivery. Other times you might have to delve into topics of a personal nature, such as the hopes and dreams of a client. There could also be occasions when you will be privy to internal struggles between a customer and his boss or among various departments within a company. Although these exchanges might be exhausting, this type of business relationship can withstand corporate takeovers and changes in technology. If you are willing to put in the time and effort to cultivate these relationships with your customers, success will be yours.

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