If you subscribe to consultative selling you already know that asking good questions is key to understanding customer needs, but are you asking questions too quickly?
Much like the days of starting with the “product pitch” are long gone, so are the days of starting client conversations with a firing line of questions. Yet, it happens every day. Well-intentioned salespeople use a myriad of questions to uncover needs designed so they can position value. On the other side of the table – frustration, impatience and perceived irrelevance to the client’s business situation.
While it is true that questions are at the heart of in-depth and mutually beneficial conversations, you have to ask yourself, “Have I earned the right?”
Sixty seconds. That’s about the time that you have to position a relevant point of view, one that translates that you have something valuable to offer that is specific to each customer’s business and personal wins and outcomes. If you start asking questions too soon, or even worse, inappropriately, you have given the customer absolutely no reason to want to engage with you. You don’t have to be right, you just have to provide some value upfront that instigates interest. For instance you may say, “I see that you are expanding business growth in India. I looked at your trade lanes and think we might be able to increase your efficiencies. We have tremendous experience in this market and would like to explore how this could positively impact your business outcomes.”
Stating a relevant and insightful point of view allows you to level-set expectations, gain commitment upfront and set the path for meaningful exploration. You have mutual agreement upfront – now your questions matter.
So How Do You Start With A Relevant Point of View?
I am not suggesting that you guess. To make a statement without intelligence is worthless. You undoubtedly know the value that your potential solutions bring to your clients. That’s good. To state these without knowing about the customer’s business issues – that’s not so good. So how do you find out what the issues are if you haven’t met with the customer?
Pre-Call Intelligence is Key
It is not your customer’s job to educate you. There is absolutely no excuse to go in cold. I feel like I am stating the obvious when I suggest basic pre-call activities like looking at the customer’s website, signing up for Google alerts, reading company press releases, looking at LinkedIn profiles and company pages. Yet, I talk to salespeople frequently who say that they know they should do these things, but don’t take the time. You have to ask if the time spent up front outweighs the quality conversation it produces.
Opening the Call
This is where you build rapport with the customer based on behavioral style and specific to what you learned in your pre-call intelligence. You are not making a product recommendation or even presenting a specific solution at this time. You are simply establishing relevancy based on what you anticipate to be the needs of the customer. You are answering the question, “Why are you here and why should I listen to you?” You are showing the customer that you care enough to know more than just the basics of who they are, but that you have some idea of their situation and how you might help. This lays the foundation for fruitful discovery that is mutually productive.
Now that you and the customer have agreed on the topic and framework for your discussion, this is the time to incorporate the questions that you need to explore the situation and position solutions. How you ask questions is critical. Improper use of questions will make you seem transactional, which is counter-intuitive to consultative selling. In consultative selling, you want the customer to see their “burning issues” and how you can solve those issues. If they are perceived as a “firing line”, don’t expect much support from your client.