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.


People are most convinced by ideas they themselves discover, so getting your prospects to define their own objectives and challenges is critical to getting their buy in throughout the sales process. 

The following are three types of questions designed to get your prospects talking about their challenges. 

Open Questions.  Your prospect has discussed his primary business objective – now how do you get him talking about why he’s not able to accomplish that objective. These questions are designed to do just that. They uncover the tip of the iceberg, and are the first step in the discovery process. 

  • “What are the main concerns you’re having with respect to…..? 
  •  “Usually people come to us for help in one or more of the following areas (list 2-3 problems you solve for people); are any of these issues for you?” 
  • “Tell me more…” or “Tell me why…” 

When you ask questions like this, look for the prospect to make statements like: 

  • “My sales are not where I want them to be.” 
  • “We’re spending too much on….. 
  • “We’re not happy with….. 


Cause Questions.  Now that you have the problem defined, the next step is to look for what’s causing the disparity.  Typically, there are several causes.  Pay close attention as these are the issues you will ultimately try to resolve. This information leads you to your presentation. 

  • “What are the reasons this is going on?” 
  • “Why do you suppose this is happening?” 
  • “Do you know what’s causing these problems?” 

It’s vital for you to understand – even better than the prospect – what’s causing their challenges.  You’ll hear things like: 

  • “Our current supplier is having quality and delivery problems.” 
  • We don’t have the right software and our people need training.” 


Keep Them Talking. Learn to direct the conversation and keep your prospects talking.  When they are talking, they are giving you valuable information. When you’re monopolizing the conversation, you’re losing an opportunity to discover what will motivate them to take action.  Add these types of questions to your repertoire and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the issues. 

  • “Tell me more about that.” 
  • “What else is there?” 
  • ”Is there anything else?” 
  • “Could you be a little more specific?” 

With these three types of questions, your sales reps should be able to encourage prospects to fully define their key challenges, which is a critical first step in the qualifying process. 


Many sales executives are laser focused on filling their pipelines for the yearSuccessful sales leaders know that a pipeline filled with qualified opportunities is essential to building sustained and repeatable revenue results, which is ultimately the fuel that drives organizational success. 

But the path to get to a healthy pipeline is not necessarily well understood and includes a number of variables, including the talent of the sales reps, market shifts, government regulations, and the competitive landscape. Despite these factors, there is one element that remains constant – selling skills. In order to have sales reps who successfully fill the pipeline with qualified opportunities, they must know how to identify, qualify, develop opportunities. 

Most sales managers are well versed in deal coaching. This means they know how to help their reps assemble the right mix of product and pricing to meet a customer’s requirements. While this is important, it does not address the fundamental need to understand how well the rep has qualified the opportunity, identified key players, and aligned your product/service offerings to meet the prospect’s business objectives. Each of these three steps requires specific skills, and managers who help their reps improve these skills are ones that will see the biggest impact to their overall sales pipelines and year-end results. 

Want to understand what prevents your sales managers from prioritizing skills coaching? Check this article out. And Look here for tips on successful skills coaching strategies.  

By one definition, process is “a series of steps with input and output.” Whether you are aware of it or not, process impacts our lives from the moment we are born. My kids go through a process to get out the door to school every morning. The orange juice they drank also went through a process to get to the table. Their teachers go through the process to advance their learning over a year’s time. All these processes are designed to get a predictable outcome.

In business, a well-defined sales process can lead to year in, year out predictable revenue. Wall Street rewards public companies based on their ability to annually predict their earnings. Some miss wildly and some are spot on. How can this be achieved? Look to the sales process, the organizational engine that generates the revenue. Here are few ways that sales process can help to generate revenue more effectively:

1. Use objective criteria – once defined, a sales process provides objective criteria and the framework to make decisions. Say a sales group is underperforming. What numbers or facts are available through sales process to pinpoint the problem? From the pipeline or opportunity review standpoint, there are specific data points you can rely on for analysis. Is it in the types of clients you are calling on? Are your sellers getting stuck in prolonged evaluations that never yield a decision? Or is it in the close ratio? It may not matter where the problem is, what really matters is that you are able to look at each problem objectively with certain criteria and then correct the course.

2. Allocate human and technological resources – How much should we spend to hire and train people? Or how much should be invested in CRM or other sophisticated software tailored to my business? As you pinpoint where bottlenecks exist, the lens you look through will help to determine if people or technology is needed to help improve. On the front end of the process, many solid lead generation services exist to help identify qualified opportunities. It’s my experience that the challenges towards the end of the selling process come in the form of the skills of the seller, or ability to effectively negotiate and close.

3. Increase visibility into new areas for growth – This may be viewed as an ethereal, strategic choice based on gut feel and economic trends, but hard data is needed for this process as well. Sales process delivers the hard data on what types of customers are attracted to your product, and why they are attracted. If this data not captured in a consistent way, then the top management loses connectivity and an ability to analyze trends with proper perspective.

Agree or not, process is King. I have this discussion with sales professionals from all industries . We learn how each person implements process in their industry, what’s working and what’s not. Broaden your understanding, challenge your thinking and, hopefully, define or refine your sales process. Tonight at home, however, I’ll be taking my queues from the process Queen. When the process Queen is happy we are all happy. It’s also my home recipe for predictable success.

Flannery Sales Systems ( helps organizations define or refine and implement a repeatable sales process. Increasing revenue through sales process is the ultimate goal. Flannery Sales Systems works with a broad cross section of industries and we are confident we can enhance your results.



Every sales leader knows that recruiting and hiring high performing sales reps is a key driver for meeting and exceeding revenue goals. But bringing in top talent is not as easy as it may seem.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet – no simple formula that will guarantee you great results every time. But the following is a proven process the sales leaders at Flannery Sales Systems have implemented to effectively double sales rep retention and performance.

The key is to identify which qualities your top performing reps have, and then develop an interview questionnaire and hiring process that ensures you are only bringing on salespeople that exhibit those qualities.

Interested in implementing this kind of process in your organization? Read on for a step-by-step guide:

  1. Interview front-line managers. The first step is to talk to your sales leadership, and especially the managers directly overseeing your sales team. Your goal is to have them identify the skills, relationships and personality traits shared by their top performing reps. This conversation is best handled as a group via a meeting or conference call.
  2. Create a list of required attributes. Tape your meeting or call above so you can go back and pull out the key characteristics discussed during the session. The goal here is to create a laundry list of all traits identified during your interviews. These need not be prioritized – yet. That comes next.
  3. Rank the list. Print out your list of sales rep attributes and ask front-line managers and sales leaders to rank the attributes in order of importance. This exercise should be done independently and each attribute should receive some number ranking.
  4. Identify attributes that can’t be learned. In addition to ranking the attributes, sales leadership should also identify any attributes that can’t be easily learned (this often includes personality traits such as hard working or charismatic but can also include things like existing relationships or a book of business).
  5. Summarize results. Once your sales leaders have individually ranked the attributes and identified any that they don’t believe can be learned on the job, you need to compile the information. Take the average of each manager’s rankings to create an overall ranking of sales attributes. Mark the ones that can’t be taught as “required” competencies.
  6. Develop an interview questionnaire. From the document above, which could be entitled “Required Competencies for Sales Reps,” create a set of two to three questions designed to uncover whether or not the rep possesses each key competency. For example, if the competency is being a self-starter, a corresponding question might be “tell me about a time when you built something from scratch and how you were successful.” There should be a few questions for each competency from which the interviewer can choose.
  7. Set the interviewing protocol. Now that you’ve created an interview questionnaire, you need to establish a protocol or process for your organization. We recommend strongly that at least two people interview each candidate using the questions you’ve developed. Interviewers should not speak to each other about the candidate before interviewing. During or immediately after the interview, they should complete a feedback form indicating whether or not they feel the candidate possessed each required competency.
  8. Conduct a post-interview huddle. Once all interviewers have had a chance to talk with the candidate, they should get together to discuss interview feedback. Discuss each competency one by one. If any of the interviewers felt a candidate didn’t exhibit a required competency, it should be flagged and one of the interviewers (most often the hiring manager) will have a follow-up conversation with the candidate.
  9. Call out missing competencies. As mentioned above, if any of the interviewers felt a candidate didn’t exhibit the required competencies, a follow up conversation with the candidate will need to take place. The recommended approach is for the interviewer to let the candidate know there was some concern over their ability to demonstrate a certain competency and wait for the candidates to react. If they become defensive and aren’t open to receiving the feedback, they are likely not a person who you’d want on your team. If they welcome the feedback and provide a good response demonstrating that they do in fact have that competency or the ability and desire to develop it, then that’s the sign of a great team member.
  10. Make a final go/no go decision. The final step is to reconvene your interview team to discuss how the candidate handled feedback on the required competencies the team had called into question. Based on how the candidate reacted, each interviewer should individually express a “go” or “no go” recommendation. The hiring manager will make the final hiring decision based on the group’s recommendation.

And, that’s it – a solid process your organization can rely on to ensure you are bringing in top sales talent. As with all processes, this one should be re-assessed periodically to ensure the required competencies are still relevant and the interview process is working.

Additionally, we recommend that you record baseline metrics before implementation so you can measure change and improvement. Some metrics that would be particularly applicable here would be average sales per rep, average sales rep retention, and percentage of monthly goal achieved. Then make sure you continue to measure these metrics once the process has been implemented to ensure it’s working for your organization.

We’ve all received questionable sales advice at some point during our careers – some from mentors or managers, some from peers, and sadly some even from training experts and consultants who are paid to know better.

We’ve spent some time scouring the web to uncover some of these pearls so we can share them here with you here. Enjoy!

1. “Here is a script, read it…”

Nothing says “I have no clue what you do” more than using a generic sales script. Reading from a script is impersonal and prevents you from having a genuine two-way conversation and building rapport.

2. Sales is just a numbers game

Sales is not just about numbers, and cold calling alone is not going to drive results. If you’re only relying on cold calls alone and not finding genuine leads who are actually interested in your product, you’re wasting your time and their time.

3. “Selling is telling”

This one made us laugh – it’s got a quite a ring to it, you must admit. Unfortunately, it was actually a common theme to training programs during the early 80’s. How wrong it was, yet, unbelievably, so many “sales professionals” thought it was right!

4. Always be closing (ABC)

This one conjures up an image of the stereotypical used car salesman. Unfortunately, as any good sales professional knows, customers hate being pushed and really hate pushy sellers. Customers want you to have their best interests at heart and to help them make the best decision, even if that decision is to buy elsewhere or not to buy at all. That’s impossible when you’re concentrating exclusively on closing the sale.

5. Mirror and matching

This one has to be our favorite – as if sales people don’t have enough to handle building rapport, adding valuable insights, asking the right questions and taking great notes. Do we really expect them to cross their arms when the prospect crosses their arms? Really?

What is the worst sales advice you’ve ever received?  Don’t be shy…chime in! This stuff is too good not to share.

kpiIn a meeting with one of our customers, the CEO used a powerful analogy while discussing KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) with his senior leadership team: “The rear view mirror in a car is 50 times smaller than the windshield.” There is an obvious reason for looking through the windshield while driving a car, but that same focus may not be quite as obvious when the objective is to drive revenue in your organization. What is your focus on; lagging or leading indicators?

Lagging Indicators – What are they?

Lagging Indicators are measures that a company uses to gauge performance by outcomes and results that are measured in the rearview mirror…at quarter-end or at year-end.  In most sales organizations, these indicators get most of the attention because they are captured in reports, which are monitored, by executives and shareholders. Lagging indicators include metrics like:

  • Total Sales Dollars
  • Revenue Growth
  • Margins
  • Market Share
  • New Customers

Leading Indicators – Real Time Data

In contrast, leading indicators are measured as you look through the windshield, navigating how you are tracking toward your destination.  They can be viewed as signposts along the way, warning you of speed limits or detours that may need consideration on route toward the revenue goal. As pipeline is being managed, leading indicators include activities that measure the progress of each person’s revenue journey.  Leading Indicators may include:

  • The number of qualified opportunities in the pipeline with qualification criteria that is clearly defined for each pipeline milestone.
  • Validation of  the customer’s business objectives and corresponding solutions from Decision Makers approval
  • Decision Maker input and agreement on the Value Proposition your product or service can influence
  • Evaluation Plans and Implementation Plans co-drafted with Decision Makers prior to proposals being submitted

How to Tune Up the KPIs in Your Organization

Before you jump in and hit the gas on the KPIs you wish to measure in your organization, make sure that your destination is clear.

  • Identify your goals (personal and organizational destinations).
  • Develop KPIs that indicate a step-by-step approach of how to achieve the business objectives outlined.
  • Validate that your KPIs will appropriately measure progress toward the attainment of the long-term objectives outlined.
  • Determine how the KPIs will be tracked and monitored so that re-routing may occur when necessary.

Connecting Leading and Lagging Indicators

As your team becomes more effective at executing Leading Indicator Activities, the Lagging Indicators will improve. There are other advantages to well-constructed KPIs:

  • KPIs set expectations for sales reps, indicating key activities for time allocation and opportunity prioritization which are tied to their performance and compensation.
  • KPIs improve team communication by putting sales activities into context as a measure toward a common goal:  To Drive Revenue.
  • Appropriate KPIs will give reps and managers real-time “caution signs” about current opportunities and provide them the insight to make educated decisions with regard to any re-routing of opportunities that may be required.
  • KPIs take the guesswork out of evaluation and coaching.  With each KPI tied to a coachable sales skill, Managers can use this data to customize coaching conversations with reps which will address skill gaps and boost performance development.

Evaluate the KPIs you are following now. Make the proper adjustments, and you will reach your destination of increased revenue this quarter!


John is attending the Selling Power 3.0 Conference in San Francisco on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The purpose for spending 2 full days out of the field is to gather information that will help Flannery Sales Systems’ customers to drive revenue.

As a great Sales Manager once said “If you are coasting (in your career), you are usually going downhill.” Don’t let that happen to you!  We are committed to learning and sharing important new information from Sales 3.0 with individuals in all customer facing roles, not just sales.




Here are two thought provoking concepts from the conference:

  • Relationship sellers are 63% less likely to ask tough questions of customers and prospects because they have an overriding need to be liked
  • Growth and comfort never co-exist

If you’re attending this conference, or in the Bay Area and would like to speak to John about how to improve your revenue generation, give him a text or call at 858-518-7039    #salestraining #salesconference #salesleadership #S30C

It is hard to believe, but many of you are finalizing your revenue generation plans for 2020.  Your leadership team is now looking three months ahead to what the new year will look like. Plans, budgets and kickoff meetings are all being created, and the commercial/go-to-market (GTM) strategy is perpetually being fine-tuned.

Commercial/GTM strategies include the likely components around the markets you compete in, the competition, and your positioning (product, price, place, promotion, etc.). But what about the HOW when it comes to sales and others who interface with prospects and customers? Often times the plans are refined to the point of specificity, except when it comes down to what we call the tactical execution of sales, meaning how conversations are conducted with prospects and customers, one at a time.

We help our customers improve the quality of the sales opportunities they develop and increase the overall revenue in their pipeline. All sales organizations are focused on this, and we enable it with a skills-based program that is custom built for our customers based on the markets they compete in and how organizations BUY, not how they should be selling. And there is still a lot to do to close out 2019 strong.

Whether it’s the preparation for next year or fine tuning of opportunities in the pipeline now, we can help in either scenario. Our skills-based approach for all individuals in customer facing roles (this includes marketing, inside sales, customer service, product development, technical specialists) is proven to work. Take fifteen minutes to consider how we can help you meet and exceed your objectives. Ready? Let’s go!

In March, John is up in the Pacific Northwest in the beautiful tree filled city of Seattle instructing a Sales Process Workshop, and working with the Managers on how to Coach to the process. In this video, John previews the upcoming articles for the newsletter and announces exciting travel plans that take FSS back out to the global market. Pack your bags and listen below.