“I go fishing up in Maine every summer,” Dale Carnegie wrote in the mid 1930s. “Personally, I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I find that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I go fishing, I don’t think about what I want. I think about what they want. I don’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangle a worm, or a grasshopper, in front of the fish saying, ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’”
This story prompted me to ask, why not use the same common sense when fishing for customers?
Secret #29: If you want to motivate other people, it’s more important to think about what they want, rather than what you want.
To succeed in sales, we have to motivate potential buyers to “want to” take action. But we also have to recognize that different people are motivated differently. While some people are motivated to run fast toward Gold Medals, many others will run even faster from German Shepherds.
By position benefits in a way that motivates both, you can potentially double the perceived value of your product or service, which significantly increases your probability of success in making a sale.
Salespeople have always been encouraged to ask questions…to uncover needs, qualify opportunities, accurately forecast pending deals, and identify potential next steps. But, just wanting to ask a bunch of questions doesn’t mean potential buyers will “want to” share information with a sales person they don’t yet know or trust.
Fortunately, strategic questions are much more than conversational staples for gathering information. Asking the right questions at the right time is one of the best ways to pique the customer’s interest, establish credibility, engage key decision makers in target accounts, differentiate yourself from the rest of the ‘noise’ in the marketplace, and increase the customer’s sense of urgency for making a decision.
Secrets of Question Based Selling (Freese’s first book), represents the core of the QBS Methodology. With each successive book, QBS has evolved into a cohesive set of strategies, techniques, and specific conversational tools that far exceed the conventional desire to simply gather information.
It Only Takes 1% to Have a Competitive Edge in Sales contains 100 chapters, each designed to give sellers a 1% advantage over the competition. After all, top performers aren’t 100% better in any one area, rather they’re 1% better in hundreds of areas.
The New Era of Salesmanship enhanced Question Based Selling by diving into the challenge of how to continue to sell effectively given the ever-increasing levels of customer skepticism in the marketplace. With the constant barrage of sales calls and solicitations, we have entered an era where sellers have to be much more savvy and strategic than in years past to convey compelling messages, or even get mindshare from key decision makers in important target accounts.
Sell Yourself First further expands the QBS methodology as direct commentary on the fact that how a salesperson is perceived by their target customers is more important that the company they represent or the products being offered.
SalesForce 2020 has once again taken Question Based Selling to a new level. While hindsight may be 20/20, it is becoming more and more clear that many of the old-school sales tactics that have been touted for decades no longer make sense as we rapidly approach the year 2020.
At the end of the day, salespeople and sales organizations have a decision to make. They can either continue to try and resuscitate traditional sales approaches, or adjust their approach in a way that will enable them to be perceived by customers as a truly valuable resource, as opposed to just another sales caller.
Contact Us to find out more about how Question Based Selling can be customized for the intended audience, cost options, and the overall impact QBS will have on your go-to-market strategy.
When contacting new prospects for the very first time, wouldn’t it be great to have a 30% to 50% success rate instead of the standard 1% to 2%? Think about it. If only one or two out of a hundred people actually chooses to engage with you, with the rest of your opportunities going down in flames, it almost seems inhumane to ask someone to continue making that many calls with such a low success rate.
It turns out that making cold calls in 2017 is a bad strategy. Salespeople hate to make them because they incur such a high rate of rejection, and customers hate to take cold calls because they perceive them as useless wastes of time. Consequently, cold calling tends to produce an extremely low return on invested sales effort (ROISE).
Now, I‘m not saying you shouldn’t call prospective customers, nor am I suggesting that you make fewer calls or work less. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t make “cold” calls any more. Fortunately, there is a better way.
What’s the problem with a cold call? The answer is simple: Temperature. Cold calls tend to sound vague and purposeless, rather than valuable, credible or relevant to the person on the receiving end of the call. So, what do you suppose the chances of making a sale are if the customer’s first impression is that this call is probably going to be a waste of time? Perhaps I should just come right out and ask: When is a good time for you to take cold calls from a salesperson you don’t yet know or trust? I think you’d say that it’s never a good time. But, what if it was possible to change the customer’s mentality to be more receptive to your calls?
Let me give you a sample of what a cold call typically sounds like:
Salesperson: “Good afternoon, Mr. Customer, my name is Joe Smith and I’m with Equitable Real Estate Life Insurance Mortgage Company. I wanted to introduce myself and see if there would be a good time to set up a meeting so I can show you how our products could help you manage your short-term monetary goals and well as help with your longer-term financial planning.
Customer: “Ahh…no, thanks.” (click)
Sure, you can mix up the words a bit and pacify yourself by thinking that your cold calls sound much different than the sample above; but at the end of the day, we should care less about what we say, and focus instead on what the customer hears. Without being customer-focused, sellers end up leaving lots of voice- mails that never generate return calls. Same with email—email messages are constantly being sent into the abyss of the decision makers’ inboxes, never to be heard from again. And, if you’re lucky enough to get through to a “live” person, customers have learned the easiest way to get a salesperson off the phone is to either say, “No, thanks…”, or simply ask, “Can you send me information?”
In either case, a potential opportunity is squandered because the salesperson doesn’t sound purposeful, relevant, valuable, or credible. If there was a fix for this, wouldn’t you rather convert more potential opportunities into real prospects? This entire conundrum is explained in Chapter 12 of my first book (Secrets of Question Based Selling), which is appropriately titled, Turning Cold Calls into Luke Warm Calls.
The key to transforming cold-calls into luke-warm calls is to understand that people are generally reluctant to share information with someone they don’t yet know or trust. You can easily prove this theory for yourself. Just walk up to someone you don’t know and ask, “Ma’am, what’s your biggest problem?” What do you think will happen? My money says they’ll give you a dirty look and then walk away.
So, when you call prospects, it’s okay to be pleasant and cordial, but you’ve got to realize that people want to know two things right off the bat: Who you are, and why are you calling me? If you are calling for no reason whatsoever, why bother even making the call? That’s what I mean by being purposeful. But, most sellers are indeed calling for a reason, and it shouldn’t just be to chit-chat about something as superfluous as the customer’s picks for the NCAA basketball tournament.
Instead, there are dozens of ways to sound more purposeful when targeting a specific audience. Note that if I made five prospect calls to five different people, or sent emails to five different accounts , the context of my message may vary widely from one to the next, but my strategy of coming across as a valuable resource rather than just another cold-caller doesn’t change. Here are two examples of conveying a more meaningful message:
Salesperson: “Hi, Robert, this is Chuck Miller with ABC Company, I’m on the team that works with large manufacturing accounts in the Great Lakes Region. I had a meeting with your counterpart in another account, and two issues came up in our conversation just before lunch last Friday that I though might directly impact your manufacturing process; one of which is time sensitive. So, I wanted to be proactive and see if it would make sense for us to connect. Is this a bad time or do you have a few minutes?”
Salesperson: “Hi, Susan, this is Dana Evans with XYZ Company, I’m on the team that works with hospitals in Central Florida. We’ve had a handful of new announcements in the last six and a half weeks, three of which could directly impact your delivery of patient care—at what could be a fraction of the cost. So, I wanted to be proactive and see if it would make sense for us to have a conversation. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
Both of these examples assume that you reached the person “live.” You wouldn’t have asked if it was a bad time when leaving a voice-mail or email message. With the exception of that last sentence, however, you could use these same words to increase the purposeful-ness of your electronic messages. For example, on voice-mail, you could easily say, “If you get a chance today, could you please call me back. My number is ________________.” With email, I might write something like, “To avoid a championship game of telephone tag, might I suggest that we pick a time to get together on the telephone to go over the various options, how that would impact your business and the associated costs? I should be in the office until tomorrow afternoon when I have to catch a flight to Chicago. Let me know what time works best for you. Please advise.”
These calls are intended to sound pleasant and cordial, but they don’t waste the customer’s time by being vague or irrelevant. In fact, being overly friendly prospects hoping that prospects will feel more inclined to buy your product or service will more likely backfire in today’s standoffish selling environment because customer’s don’t want to be schmoozed. They want to be helped. Fortunately for sellers, when your calls sound purposeful, relevant, and credible, and you are perceived to be a valuable resource, you will build plenty of relationships within your targeted accounts. Put it this way, if I was going to make a bunch of prospect calls, I would rather my efforts produce two, three, or even four times the average success rate. Once you get to that point, you double your success rate again. That’s how you sell lots of stuff.
There are only so many ways to communicate value during the typical sales cycle. One is to simply verbalize whatever points you want to make. Relying on words alone, however, means you run the risk of having your messages get diluted, as customers remember only some fraction of what was said. That’s why it’s important to use visuals, as a picture is worth a thousand words.
The most common visuals sellers use to deliver their value propositions are product brochures and PowerPoint slides—which ironically, aren’t the most productive ways to communicate value. Truth be told, the instant you put up a PowerPoint slide, the customer’s eyes go straight to the lower right corner of the image on the screen, and then work backward from the lower right to the upper left.
Why? Because skeptical customers have learned over the years that the meat of the messages being presented usually crescendoes toward the bottom of the slide. Meanwhile, most salespeople begin by reviewing points in the upper left of each slide, and then slowly (sometimes painstakingly) work their way down to the conclusions in the lower right.
Can you see the problem? The presentation audience spends much of their time focusing on something totally different than the salesperson is presenting.
If you really want to differentiate your solutions, then I suggest you set your company’s standard PowerPoint deck aside, grab a set of markers, and facilitate the discussion by drawing your own pictures.
Whenever I’m the customer, I can review sales propaganda on my own. What I really want is to get a sense for how competent a salesperson is, and whether I’m dealing with someone who can translate generic information into specific solutions that meet my needs.
To cite a practical example, have you ever headed off to the hardware store with a problem you didn’t know how to solve? When the first Mr. Fix-it person gives you a vague answer, what do you do? If you’re like me, you seek out a second opinion. Then, if the second person provides a verbose and convoluted explanation, it’s possible to feel more confused than helped. Finally, someone whips out a piece of paper and draws a simplistic diagram of the problem and the solution. Suddenly everything makes sense!
Even at informal meetings, sellers should always have a pen and paper on-hand to illustrate important concepts. In smaller, intimate settings, you can simply tear off a few flip chart pages and lay them flat on the conference table like placemats. This gives you an opportunity to lead the discussion (on paper) as opposed to delivering a formal stand-up presentation. Another idea is to hand the marker to the customer. Since people love to talk about themselves, you’d be amazed at how fast customers can fill up white board with important information—that is, if you’re willing to hand over the pen.
You might even use this concept to adjust the way you ask for appointments. Most sellers are just trying to get a meeting. Me, I would much rather get in front of the entire decision committee, and be allotted enough time to facilitate a discussion that marries their objectives to my solutions. Consequently, I don’t just ask for meetings. Instead, when it’s time to close for an appointment, I am more inclined to say, “Mr. Prospect, would it make sense to get the appropriate people together…in front of a white board…so we can map out your options, the impact to your business, and the associated costs?”
Asking to get in front of a white board (or a piece of paper) is extremely effective because it conveys a greater sense of value, gives you an opportunity to facilitate a more in-depth discussion, and ultimately, is perceived by decision makers to be a much better use of the customer’s time.
The ability to communicate value without having to rely on product brochures or PowerPoint slides that someone else in the marketing department created, is one of the best ways for sellers to demonstrate competence and show off their expertise to potential buyers. Since much of the sales process takes place outside the formal presentation environment anyway (i.e. on a notepad or bar napkin), the lesson is clear—learn to be a good chalk-talker and your credibility will soar. So will your sales results.