Better Sales Questions = Better Sales Better Outcomes.

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I’ve never carried a sales quota, but I’ve sat in on enough sales meetings to know that many of them can be a waste of time. In an effort to quickly qualify prospective customers, junior sales reps often rely on a prescribed sales methodology that steamrolls prospects with a series of questions that reveal very little. Misdirecting their energies, they miss the opportunity to listen for what really matters to their customers, potentially damaging relationships and losing sales.

As marketers, we can help our teams get inside their customers’ heads so they can better understand and respond to their needs. The insights we guide them to—nuggets of truth—become building blocks for stronger relationships and more strategic, value-oriented selling.

Here’s how to steer your clients to more valuable, productive customer interactions by getting them to ask better questions and to take the time to listen:

1. Step back for a better perspective

Many sales people fail to see the forest for the trees, trying to triage problems directly tied to their product before taking in the context of the organization and its industry. Pain points are often symptoms of bigger, more strategic issues or circumstances. Get to the root by first learning about the company and its experience in its category and adjacent categories before inserting the proposed solution. Not only will this yield insight into how to frame value, it will also help to spot obstacles.

Ask enlightening questions, such as:

  • What’s new in your industry?
  • How does your company fit within the space?
  • What are the most important priorities for your business this year and how do they translate into your goals?
  • What are the key programs and initiatives you’re pursuing to achieve those priorities?
  • What’s worked, what hasn’t, and why?

2. Understand the stakes

Sales training techniques (think Sandler) don’t hold back at trying to uncover what’s at stake for a business and the champion if they can’t solve their problem. Sellers are often taught to telegraph the risk from the get-go, rather than naturally arriving at it by identifying strategic organizational goals, progressing towards the capabilities a business needs to build, and uncovering what’s worked and not worked along the way. Taking a measured approach to the conversation puts you in a better position to understand what a fail or miss means to the business. Try these questions, instead:

  • What was the “aha!” moment when grappling with your need?
  • How will solving that problem affect your mission?
  • How are other teams in the organization helping to solve the problem? Is it working?

3. Develop situational fluency

Prospective customer meetings should be conversations, not interrogations. Let your customer do most of the talking, but guide them by mastering situational fluency—the skill of adding value by injecting anecdotes and contributing to the momentum of the conversation. It’s an invaluable skill that develops with time and experience. Master it with these tips:

  • Listen before responding – Take a moment to process what you just heard and respond with empathy and compassion. Don’t be too quick to check the box and move to the next question.
  • Be genuine – Let the conversation steer your follow-up questions and ask follow-ups that show you’re listening and have an interest in what the person is saying.
  • Synthesize – Learn to distill what the other person is saying down to its elemental root. Play it back to them in your own words to let them know you know hear and understand what they are saying. It also provides a great opportunity to steer the conversation.

While doing the homework before meeting with prospective customers is critical, sales teams shouldn’t assume they know what’s important to their customers’ business. Asking the right questions and really listening will provide them an insider’s point of view, shedding light on how their product or service can add true value. Helping your clients master these conversations will help to solidify their relationships and yours, ultimately boosting business for both.

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