This is an article on helping your sales reps uncover their prospects’ primary business objectives and the challenges preventing their fulfillment. This discovery phase is critical to helping reps align their products or services as solutions to their customers’ key business challenges.

We will focus on qualification, which involves getting customers to quantify their challenges. Without this critical step, it’s impossible for sales reps to show their prospects the cost of doing nothing and motivate them to make a change.

The following are questions that will help your reps quantify the financial gain customers stand to achieve by using your product or service.

Impact Questions. It is important to elicit from the prospect the impact that the overall pain has on the company and the individuals involved. Understanding the consequences motivates the prospect to take action.

  • “What kinds of problems is this causing for you?”
  • “What impact is it having on sales and profitability?”
  • “Seems like this might affect….., does it?  Can you tell me more?”
  • “What happens if it doesn’t get fixed?”
  • “Who else is involved or impacted?”

They’ll say things like:

  • “I’m under a lot of pressure to turn sales around and we’re having to offer discounts to move product. Our margins are down by 20%.”
  • “It’s affecting our ability to meet our customers’ expectations.  We’re starting to lose business.”

Commitment Questions. Commitment questions help determine how important it is to rectify the situation and what action the prospect might take if you were able to provide a solution that they felt would work.  Although they might have a problem, it’s wrong to assume they are committed or have a budget to fix it.

Ask questions like these to see how strong their commitment is:

  • “How important is it to fix this problem?”
  • “What priority is it to fix the problem?”
  • “Is doing nothing an option?”

How will you feel when your prospect starts to say things like this?

  • “We’d want to get started as soon as possible.”
  • “We’d be willing to start switching some of our business over by (date) if we felt you could do the job.”

Budgetary Questions. These questions that will help you uncover what kind of budget your prospect has to fix the problem.

  • “Do you have a budget to take care of the problem?  What would it be, approximately?”
  •  “Assuming we could make the problem go away, how much would you be willing to invest to fix a $_________ problem?”

They’ll say things like:

  • “We have a $200,000 budget for training and development.”
  • “Our server outage is costing us over $1 million annually, so we’re willing to invest quite a bit if we were confident the new solution will decrease downtime by 99%.”

These financial questions will help your sales reps complete a critical final step in the qualification process – getting their prospects to put a dollar value to the challenges they’re facing and discuss what kind of budget they have available to fix them.

Many sales reps lose opportunities not because they have poor presentation or negotiation skills, but more often because they have not done a thorough job understanding their prospects’ primary business objectives and challenges.

In order to maximize their chances of success, the best reps don’t force feed objectives, challenges and budgets to their prospects, but use a series of intelligent questions to encourage their prospects to come up with these on their own. As a sales professional, your credibility comes from the kinds of questions you ask, and your success depends upon your ability to help your customer achieve their objectives.

As humans, we tend to want to swoop in and fix things, often starting with the things that are most broken and most in need of repair. As sales managers, we pride ourselves on being fixers and judge ourselves on our ability to effectively coach our teams and give them the resources they need to be successful.  

But, just as not all salespeople are created equal (see Bottom Third Sales Coaching) nor are the opportunities they put in the pipeline. In both cases, though our tendency may be to start with the team members and opportunities that are most in need, this impulse is often detrimental to our overall success. Just as with the bottom third of our sales reps, the bottom third of our opportunities will rarely move the needle regardless of how much time or energy we put into them. Often these are opportunities that have not been well qualified and are not well suited to our product or service capabilities. Additionally, despite equal or greater time investment, they may not have the revenue potential that some of the other opportunities have. 

So, what’s the answer? As difficult as it can be, the answer is to put less time into your bottom third. Instead, focus your time on B and C opportunities. Why not your A opportunities? Because your top 10% of opportunities are so well qualified and such a good fit, that they’ll likely close with little to no involvement from you. So, spend your time on the B and C opportunities, helping your reps understand how your product or service will help their prospects increase revenue, decrease costs or mitigate risks. Spend time thoroughly qualifying these ones up front so they have a higher likelihood to close.  

Neglecting the bottom third of your opportunities is not shirking your sales managerial responsibilities; in fact, reallocating your time to focus on the 60% of your core B and C opportunities will be the best way to support your sales reps going forward by helping them move the needle. 

When we are working with a new customer, we want to get a self-assessment of the teams’ selling skills. The simple purpose of creating, delivering, and implementing a sales process is to improve your sales results, however you measure that.  But in order for you to know exactly what you want to improve skill-wise, you must first understand which skills you want to focus on.

Before we go any further, let’s assess the selling skills on your team and identify areas where you think your team could use some reinforcement or skills development. You may also find that refining your sales process will help address some of these skill gap areas. 

A stack ranking of selling skills forces the seller or the manager to place a “1” next to the skill that they feel is their strongest skill, and then a 6 next to the skill they believe to be the one that needs the most improvement. Thereafter, place a 2, 3, 4 and 5 next to the skills in a stack ranking that show the skills that are mastered and those that need to be improved.

The sales skills to be assessed are below.  Rank 1 for the strongest skill and 6 for the weakest.

             Proactive new business development 

             Assessing needs

             Establishing value

             Accessing key players  

             Managing the buying process

             Negotiating and closing

So, go ahead and use the open space to the left of the skills listed above to stack rank your skills. Remember, stack rank means that there can only be one 1, one 2, one 3, etc. on through 6. Managers should do the same ranking and then compare the results. If the results align, then there is a common path on which skills to work on. If they don’t, then there is some dialogue needed to clarify and prioritize training and coaching priorities.

We have a lot of exciting things to look forward to in 2020. One of my personal favorites is the Summer Olympics, which are coming to Tokyo this July. The event I’m most looking forward to is the 4×100-meter relay race. This is consistently one of the most popular events in the Olympics for both spectators and tv audiences alike. It’s an athletic endeavor which combines both speed and endurance, great individual performances as well as cohesive teamwork.

I was recently thinking that the 4×100 relay can be compared to a great sales process. How? Keep reading: 

  1. Leg 1 – REFINE: The opening leg of a relay is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important stages of the race. It’s critical for runners to get out of the blocks quickly to establish their team’s position. Similarly, the “Refine” stage of a sales process is where sales teams hone the steps they will take to build a steady, repeatable revenue stream. This includes how leads are generated and moved through the sales funnel.
  • Leg 2 – BUILD: The second leg of the relay is where runners build a steady, consistent pace in order to hold onto their positions. The runners are taking inventory of their positions, maintaining steady speed and lining things up for a clean handoff.
  • Leg 3 – DELIVER: In the third leg, runners rely on stamina in order to set their teams up for the best chance to win in the final leg. Getting ready for that transition to win is critical to delivering the best case possible for success in the end.
  • Leg 4 – REINFORCE: The final leg is where relays are won and lost. The first three legs may go well, but if runners in the anchor position don’t finish strong, their teams won’t come out on top.  In the same way, your sales team may have a solid sales process, but without ongoing reinforcement of sales skills, your overall performance will fall short. Sales managers must be equipped to provide timely, personalized rep coaching to reinforce the skills needed to consistently meet and exceed sales targets.

Like the talented athletes that will make up Team USA’s 4×100-meter relay teams this summer, your sales teams will rely on certain strategies to ensure success. One of the most critical is a well-defined sales process that will help sales teams get off the blocks quickly and maintain their stamina all the way to the finish line.

For more on ways sales process drives revenue, click here.

When a client engages us to help their sales staff, we often ask to interview their top performers. Our purpose is to decode their selling DNA and identify the markers that make them so successful. One common thing we’ve found is that top sales performers consistently help their customers to meet their objectives by selling business value.

There are three tactics these top sellers employ to establish value:

  1. Get to the cost of the problem today.  Buyers will face any number of problems. Great sales people help buyers define in totality all the costs those problems bring. The cost may be non-monetary like low morale or frustration, but costs that strike the bottom line are numbers that are heard by every person involved in making the buying decision. When you are the high-priced product in the market, it seems that every buyer asks about prices first. Great sellers shape and frame conversations around the costs of the buyer’s problems, not on the price of their solution.  
  2. Tell stories. Stories help the buyers discover for themselves the problems they are facing or the solutions that are needed. Great sales people have several stories, personal experiences that they share depending on the situation or desired outcome. They share stories when the conversation lulls and the buyer is unable to articulate problems.  Stories have purpose and you begin them by framing who they are about, their problem, a turning point, and a resolution. Stories not only get to problems, they can be used to describe how others use and derive business value from your products. 
  3. Summarize the conversation in writing. All sellers tell me that they create meeting summaries, but few do it well. We sell our services to many companies in different industries.  I am constantly referring to the meeting summary emails I’ve written as follow up after our conversations. These emails summarize the problems they are facing, the costs these problems are causing, the solutions we discussed and value of those solutions, and, of course, the next steps as discussed. This helps the customer and I keep the focus on the problems we are trying to solve. Great sales people don’t rely on memory.  They summarize the meeting conversations by writing it down, sharing it with the customer, and allowing the customer to give feedback.

Have you used any of these techniques to establish value in your sales process? Do you have others you use? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email to john@drive-revenue.com

By John Golden, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer at Pipeliner CRM

Did you know that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual? It makes sense when you consider that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. This is precisely why we built Pipeliner CRM to be the most visual CRM available on the market. In Sales, time is always of the essence so we want to make every second count.

Plus today’s selling environment continues to become more complex with so much data being thrown at salespeople that it can become overwhelming – this is why we have applied the “Science of Simplification” better known as Cybernetics.

The originator of the science of cybernetics was American mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener. In 1948 he defined cybernetics as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” The word cybernetics comes from Greek κυβερνητική (kybernetike), meaning “governance”, the latter meaning “to steer, navigate or govern”. W. Ross Ashby referred to cybernetics as the “science of simplification”.

If there is one thing that salespeople don’t need more of and that is unnecessary complexity but that is exactly what they have been presented with when traditional command and control CRM systems are foisted upon them. In contrast, we at Pipeliner take a “sales-eye” view and always look at how we can present critical sales data in the most simple and visual format for busy salespeople can process it in the blink of an eye.

To make learning and adopting Pipeliner as easy and fast as possible we have created a uniform layout and navigation for viewing the details of the most critical elements of every sales process: Accounts, Contacts, Leads, and Opportunities. But more than that, we offer multiple ways of viewing the same data so that users can choose how best they want to display it – no other system is so flexible and understands that different people process data in different ways. Plus we use graphs, icons, and charts everywhere throughout the system allowing the salesperson, with one quick glance, to see the information they need.

In other words, we do the hard work of figuring out how to present data to make it easy for the salesperson to process it quickly and use it immediately. With today’s technology it is pretty easy to gather copious amounts of data and while this has its obvious advantages there are real limitations in how much data the human brain can consume at once.

You have heard the expression “drinking from a fire hose” when overloaded with information and this mistake is replicated by many of the systems that salespeople are forced to use. In contrast, we take the fire hose and turn the torrent of water in beautiful watercolor paintings!

This is what we call Dynamic, Instant Visualization!