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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 originate, 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. 

           

 

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.

what_to_askEarlier this week, we introduced you to the idea that thoroughly understanding your customers’ key business objectives and the challenges inhibiting their fulfillment is the most important element to the sales process, and that traditionally salespeople do a poor job in this phase. If you haven’t read the first part of this series, “Why It Matters,” you can check it out here.

So, the question becomes – how can we help sales reps be more successful? First and foremost, we can arm them with a series of questions designed to get their prospects talking about their challenges in their own words. People are most convinced by ideas they themselves originate, 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 to 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 the reasons for the challenge.  What’s causing the disparity?  Typically there are several causes.  Pay close attention as these are the issues you will ultimately try to resolve for the prospect. 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.

But, there is more. Next sales reps need to get prospects to quantify the impact these challenges have on their business. What is the cost of doing nothing? Here’s where they will be able to establish the value and ROI of your offering. To learn more about quantifying your prospects challenges, stay tuned next week for the third and final installment of our series.

Back to Part 1 | Go to Part 3