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.

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.  

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.


Too many salespeople show up with an attitude. It sounds like this. “I’ve got the best solution available, and my job is to convince my prospects that I’m right. This is the “try harder” syndrome. This attitude just doesn’t work well any longer. Here’s a list of the beliefs that salespeople have that will do them more harm than good and what you should be believing instead.

Faulty Belief: I need to educate my prospect; presentation skills are my most effective tool.
Winning Belief: Your job is to qualify your prospect and investigative skills are your most effective tool. Let’s face it, no one ever lost a sale by listening too much.

Faulty Belief: Everyone needs what I sell; hearing “no” is a failure.
Winning Belief: A more productive belief is that not everyone is a prospect for
what I sell and “no” is not a failure as long as I’ve qualified the opportunity adequately.

Faulty Belief: When the prospect says, “I need to think it over,” there’s still a chance.
Winning Belief: You should be skeptical (not reassured) when your prospect tells you that he needs to “think it over.”

Faulty Belief: My features and benefits differentiate me from my competitors; they give me an advantage.
Winning Belief: If you rely on features and benefits, you’re probably going to sound just like everybody else, and your prospect may conclude that what you sell is just a commodity. When you’re perceived as a commodity, price becomes the most important buying criteria.

Faulty Belief: My job is to convince my prospect that he would benefit from purchasing from me; I need to be a good closer.
Winning Belief: It’s the prospect’s job to convince you that he has a problem, the budget and the decision-making ability to fix it and needs your help. Try this attitude on your next sales interview and see how it will change your approach.

Faulty Belief: Financial considerations are the most important factor in determining who gets the business.
Winning Belief: If you can help them increase their business or save them money, your price is relative to their gain.

Faulty Belief: If my prospects like me, they will buy from me.
Winning Belief: The real issue is whether or not the prospect thinks you can solve their problem. If they do, you’re likely to get the business.

Key Points

1. Your attitudes and beliefs are very important; they dictate what you do and how you do it. Ultimately, your attitudes and beliefs control your results.

2. Hearing “no” is not a failure; not everyone is a prospect for your product or service.

3. You should believe in the Law of Abundance – there’s plenty of business out there. Don’t hang on to a prospective client when the odds of being successful are slim. Find another opportunity.


sales_opsIndustry experts are talking about Sales Operations. Kellogg’s School of Management Professor Emeritus, Andris A. Zoltners, says “sales operations or ‘sales ops’ has become widely accepted as essential for effective sales management.” Seattle-based agency Heinz Marketing says “Sales operations may very well be THE most important and unsung hero for sales teams.”

Why has sales ops become so critical in the eyes of so many?

Much of it lies in the growing importance of technology enablement. Sales teams today rely on many types of technology solutions to provide data analytics, mobile capabilities and lead management. Sales ops professionals are charged with spearheading and supporting these types of initiatives.

But that’s not where their responsibilities stop. They are still burdened with traditional operational tasks like reporting, contract support, and administrative functions. Their job description has become so varied that Zoltners astutely poses the question, “Can one person really handle all this?”

The obvious answer is no. So what to do? Sales ops managers must hire and develop a team of people with both varied and specialized skill sets. The jobs they do as well as their ultimate career paths will be fundamentally different. Managers should also look to outsourced resources to fill in missing competencies.

Ultimately, the key to keeping this diversely talented group in sync is leadership. Scott Shimamoto, Principals at ZS Associates, says, “The best sales ops teams have a clearly articulated mission statement.” Sales operations leaders must create a clear road map for success.

What should be included in that road map? For a great overview, we recommend Selling Power Magazine’s recent article, “Understanding the Role of Sales Operations“.




20141215_133131-1_resized_1On my way to have lunch with Brian Tracy, I took a moment to consider the conversation that would unfold. On one hand, I was about to sit down with one of the best known speaker-author-entrepreneurs in the world when it comes to optimizing human and organizational performance and results. On the other hand, it was also just a chance to sit down with a neighbor and friend whom I have known for over seven years.


In the slim chance that you don’t know who Brian is, hit this link to learn more: In short, Brian has worked in 80 countries and delivered his programs to over 5,000,000 million people in a 45 year career. He has authored 65 books that have been translated into many languages.

It was refreshing to hear Brian say that when it comes to sales, customer and buyer behavior is the same 80% of the time anywhere that he has worked or traveled. What is different, is the 20% of the equation that is attributed to cultural adaptation, languages and localization as buyers reflect the nuances of the areas in which they live.

Creating and Connecting the Dots

In our conversation, Brian referenced the speech that Steve Jobs delivered at the Stanford Commencement in 2005, saying that the key to success in business or in life is connecting the dots. The dots are the true opportunities that you pursue in your life, sometimes those that are off the beaten path of what “success” looks like. But before you connect the dots, you must be continually creating dots.

In that capacity, Brian is currently focused on a strategic planning program for organizations and individuals that he calls Idealization. This program takes into consideration all of the critical components that organizations and individuals must balance to account for family, careers, health and finances.

He is also working with business leaders throughout the world on Business Model Innovation, and has developed a nine-step process on how to stay ahead in business. The speed at which new technology is being introduced, coupled with the rapid globalization of commerce, both contribute to the demise of business models more quickly than ever before. To stay ahead, business leaders must innovate and Brian is addressing this need with his services.


John and team traveled to the snowy East Coast last week to lead a workshop in Ithaca, NY. In this video, John previews our upcoming newsletter featuring a video from Gerhard Gschwandtner, founder and publisher of Selling Power magazine and long-time FSS partner and colleague. Flannery Sales Systems will be heading to Australia in January (Sydney and Melbourne) and Spain (Barcelona) in February. If you’d like to join us for a session, or meet John for a coffee if your city is listed on our calendar, reach out to


featuresIf you’ve been following our blog or have attended one of our sales workshops, no doubt you’ve heard us talk about how a Features & Benefits approach to selling is no longer viable in today’s complex, relationship-based world. But have we taken a step back to explain why?

If not, here are some of our top reasons:

  • Features and benefits are used prematurely to create interest, rather than properly qualifying the prospect.
  • Features and benefits are used to differentiate a product from its competition, but everybody’s benefits (and often the features) sound the same (“we can save you time and money, and we’ll stand behind the purchase 100%”). When competitors look the same, buying decisions are made on price.
  • Features and benefits engage the prospect intellectually, and most buying decisions are made emotionally.   Research shows that most people don’t remember the features or benefits after a week or so, and if they felt any enthusiasm at all, it too had disappeared after a week.
  • Features and benefits are the seller’s bag of tricks (“we’ve got this, we’ve got that”), and may not be relevant to the prospect’s buying reasons. People buy for their reasons, not yours.
  • Once you’ve “dumped” your features and benefits, the only thing left to do is close and handle objections and, all too often, discount your price. From there, it’s all pressure, and you can’t go back and qualify further.

So as 2014 comes to a close, remember to work with your sales reps to avoid the temptation to dive into product features & benefits too quickly. Much more important is their ability to establish trust, ask intelligent questions, and thoroughly qualify each opportunity.


John Flannery has been invited to lead a workshop as part of European Language Industry Association’s (ELIA) Expert Training event in Barcelona, Spain.

This learning opportunity includes a series of in-depth workshops designed for all professionals who believe in personal and business growth. The event will focus on business-critical topics such as sales, creativity and conflict management.

John’s workshop is entitled “How to Win Business from New and Existing Customers”, and in it, he will work with attendees to help them differentiate themselves through the conversations they have during the sales process.

For more about the ELIA expert training, take a look at their event page. We hope to see you in Barcelona!

Flannery Sales Systems recently traveled to Richmond, Virginia. In this video, John discusses what you have to look forward to in our upcoming blog posts and newsletter, including guest posts from sales leaders like Brian Dietmeyer and a straightforward look at how FSS can help you sell more.