“Modernizing” Your Cross-selling & Up-selling Strategy

April 13, 2017 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

Two of the quickest ways to increase sales productivity and results are to employ the age-old strategies of cross-selling and up-selling. McDonald’s fast food restaurants were the first to bring international acclaim to these techniques by teaching minimum wage employees to always ask, “Would you like some fries with that shake?” …or, “Could I interest you in a hot apple pie to go with your meal?”McDonalds(2)

Most vendors today offer more than one solution—and oftentimes, a suite of complementary products, which is good because most customers have more than one need. Thus, getting a foot in the door with one product or service can easily pave the way to broader conversations about other potential opportunities. Expanding your sales conversations to include other peripheral opportunities is traditionally known as Cross-selling, or selling across multiple product lines. Up-selling is similar in terms of leveraging your customer relationships within an account to transform small opportunities into much larger pieces of business.

Cross-selling and Up-selling are both strategic mindsets that come from focusing on the underlying implications of the customer’s problem, goals, wants, needs, and desires, which extends far beyond just fixating on the problem itself. For example, when a customer walks through the front doors of a McDonald’s, they typically want something to eat. Of course, when they order something to eat, it makes sense that they might also want something to drink. And let’s not forget dessert! This thinking has become second nature for the folks who work behind the counter at any McDonald’s.

So, what if your business is selling office furniture, instead of selling burgers and fries? Isn’t it likely that customers who are interested in buying desks and chairs might also need bookcases, file cabinets, or other accessories that would further compliment their office? This same mentality can easily be applied within any sales organization that offers a catalogue of complimentary solutions. Whether you sell technology, manufactured goods, medical supplies, or consulting services, your ability to deliver valuable solutions in one area can easily pave the way to provide additional products and services, both now and in the future.

I not only encourage, I specifically teach sellers to make this notion of Cross-selling and Up-selling a conscious practice. With minimal effort on the part of the sales team, sellers can leverage their current business relationships to broaden the scope of their conversations to include other areas where they offer products and services that provide additional value. One approach is to be direct and to the point, where you simply ask the customer if they would like some “fries” with their “shake.” A more modern day method of broadening your sales opportunities is to take a softer tack, by asking:

Salesperson:Mr. Customer, since we are already working with you to solve this very important problem, would it make sense to take a more strategic look at how we may be able to save you time, money and effort in other areas of your business as well?”

My personal favorite Cross-selling/Up-selling question is a specific technique I developed over many years of teaching sales organizations how to jump-start their needs development conversations. At the appropriate time, you simply ask:

Salesperson: “Mr. Customer, besides the obvious goal of ______, ______, and ­­­­______, what specifically are you most concerned about?”

This question works particularly well when dealing with buyers who are reticent, skeptical, or standoffish. Rather than just generically probing for “what” issues might be most important to them, this technique gives sellers an opportunity to demonstrate a level of thoughtfulness and professional fortitude with in the delivery of the question itself. You simply fill in the blanks with two or three decision factors that might be relevant to the customer’s situation, like asking: “Besides the obvious goals of reliability, regulatory compliance, and finding the most cost effective solution, what specifically are you most concerned about?” Of course, whenever a salesperson introduces two or three relevant business issues or decision factors into the conversation, prospective customers who fancy themselves as knowledgeable will likely raise two, three or four additional areas of interest, thereby expanding the conversation, and in turn, the number of reasons to purchase more of your products and services.

Now, how about one of those hot apple pies?

Chalk Talks, Flip Charts, & White Boards, …‘Oh my!’

March 9, 2017 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

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.

flip chart1The 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.

Keep Your Chin Up, and Your Head Down…

February 14, 2017 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

Do you like to play golf? I do. In fact, years ago I qualified to play on the University of Florida’s elite golf team, but quickly discovered that there’s a big difference between pretty good and elite. Thus, it rapidly became clear that I had better find some other way to make a living.

These days, I’m simply a weekend golfer who still enjoys the game, but I now live for those few perfectly-executed shots…whichgolferinfrequently occur among many other wayward swings that send my ball flying deep into the trees, into an adjacent lake, or ending up in a homeowner’s backyard.

Thus, I have learned not to expect perfection every time. Even the golf professionals you see on television experience many of the same ups and downs as us weekend golfers, albeit at a much higher level. For that matter, professionals in all walks of life have to deal with good days and bad days, which any seasoned sales professional can certainly attest.

Achieving the desired level of success in any endeavor requires an interesting combination of patience and hard work in order to focus on maximizing the number of “ups,” while minimizing your downside risk. While those might seem like opposing forces at first glance, let me give you just one example as it relates to golf (and ironically, sales).

This past weekend, I played 18 holes with a few of my golf buddies. As luck would have it, I opened the round with a double-bogey on the first hole, followed by two triple-bogeys—a terrible start to be sure. But, rather than getting totally frustrated like I sometimes do, I took a few deep breaths and tried to focus on what adjustments I could make in order to right the ship. Lo and behold, I was able to get up-and-down from the greenside bunker to save par on #4, followed by another ho-hum par on #5. I began to think that perhaps there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Then, as if the heavens opened up with good fortune, I birdied 3 out of the next 4 holes, putting me back in contention, and more importantly, in the money. I ended up finishing with one of my better 18-hole scores of the year, much to the chagrin of my buddies who were left reaching for their wallets.

My experience in sales has been filled with many of the same highs and lows as I tend to experience on the golf course. In fact, I can easily recall times where I was working a deal that was seemingly in-the-bag, only to discover that it suddenly got derailed at the eleventh hour. And I can cite numerous examples where my first disappointment of the day was followed by another, and then another. Believe me, I completely understand the feeling of wanting to cut bait and either head to the nearest pub to drown my sorrows, or find the closest bridge to jump off. As the saying goes, “You can’t win ‘em all.”

Fortunately, there’s another old saying that has buoyed golfers for centuries, all the way back to when the modern game of golf was born in Scotland in 1457AD. In short, if you want to be successful on the course, “Keep your chin up and your head down.”

While I’m not sure the early Scots recognized the significance of their initial wisdom, this idea of keeping your chin up and your head down applies to virtually every aspect of everyday life. Said differently, the blend of patience together with a relentless desire to work hard is an extremely powerful combination.

It’s one thing to try and work yourself into a stress-filled frenzy, at the mere possibility of disappointment or despair. It is quite another to have the patience to step back and think about what you can do differently to produce a more desirable outcome next time.

While I’m not sure the early Scots recognized the significance of their initial wisdom, this idea of keeping your chin up and your head down applies to virtually every aspect of everyday life. Said differently, the blend of patience together with a relentless desire to work hard is an extremely powerful combination.

It’s one thing to work yourself into a frenzy at the sheer possibility of disappointment or despair. It is quite another thing to have the patience and presence of mind to step back and think about what you might be able to do differently to produce a more desirable outcome next time.

Throughout my pilgrimage as a sales trainer and thought leader for the last 20 years, I see both sides of this coin almost every week. I meet people who crave perfection, to the point where some salespeople wallow in frustration every time something doesn’t go their way. Meanwhile, I meet other sellers who are more realistic in their expectations that they are likely to encounter a few bumps on the road to success. And generally, it’s the proactive salesperson(s) who seek to make the adjustments necessary to effectively navigate (and even prevent) the various hurdles that would otherwise hinder their success during the sales process.

The question is, which type of golfer (or sales professional) do you want to be—the one who gets frustrated and throws a fit every time the ball doesn’t find its way into the hole, or the patient one who can be proactive enough to use the lessons learned along the way to enhance your opportunity to succeed moving forward?

What lesson is that? Always keep your chin up, and your head down. Good things tend to happen when you are willing to put in the sweat equity to work hard, with a positive attitude. That’s generally when a significant  upside in results is just around the corner.

Is it Better for Salespeople to be Problem Solvers, or Solution Providers?

January 17, 2017 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

Especially during the ‘kickoff season’ of any new sales year, sales teams and marketing departments alike usually invest a tremendous amount of thought and energy into how best to position their solutions within their respective markets. That makes sense—after all, the more solutions you provide, the more money you and your company stand to make, right? problem solving

Or, perhaps it should be the other way around…

Providing valuable solutions is certainly a noble goal for individual salespeople, and for the entire sales organization. But, if you step back and think about it, customers in any value-oriented sale are much more focused on solving “their” problems than acquiring “your” solutions. How do we know this to be true?

Last time you bought a car (or a computer, cell phone, home, or faced any other value-based purchase decision), as you walked through the front doors of the automobile dealership, what was more important to you—addressing your goals, wants, needs, and desires, or getting ‘pitched’ by an eager sales representative?

Not surprisingly, the answer to this question is the same for every business, in every industry, and in every culture. Customers are much more interested in addressing their needs, than being “sold” on your solutions.

This is where a seemingly small difference in semantics translates into a significant increase in sales effectiveness and productivity. As it turns out, solving a customer’s problem…and providing a solution…is the same—in the sense that you can’t solve a problem without providing a solution, nor can you provide a solution without solving a problem.

Still, there is a huge difference between being a ‘problem solver’ and a ‘solution provider.’ The difference is perception. Customers these days are much more focused on addressing their goals, objectives, wants, needs, and desires, than they are willing to be on the receiving end of a sales pitch. Thus, adopting a ‘problem solver’ mindset can give sellers a significant advantage over the traditional ‘solution provider’ mentality in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace.

While everyone knows that success in selling is about building mutually beneficial business relationships, sellers who focus on solving the customer’s problems can expect to sell substantially more solutions. That’s because the mutual bonds being formed with potential buyers are the result of focusing on the problems they are trying to solve, rather than fixating on whatever solutions you might be wanting to sell.

Hit Your 2017 Sales Targets by the End of August…

January 3, 2017 by QBS Research, Inc.  
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Who says sellers should have to wait until the last few days of the year to “eek out” their annual sales objectives? What if you could reach your quota by the end of August, leaving plenty of time to then exceed expectations–even break the bank in terms of receiving larger bonuses and fatter commission checks? Who likes spending the holiday season chasing last-minute deals anyway?

Sound enticing? It’s not only possible to overshoot your 2017 sales goals, it is well within your control. And here’s why…the approach you take to dealing with customers will likely have a greater impact on your success than any other external factors in your business.

August Calendar

There is no magic wand or secret formula, however. If anything, traditional sales approaches may actually be your enemy moving into 2017, as it’s likely that most, if not all, of your competitors are following the same process models you do: where Step 1 is Identifying Opportunities, Step 2 is Qualify, Step 3 is Uncovering Needs, blah, blah, blah. There’s simply no upside to sounding the same as everyone else.

Yet, in most every company (in virtually all industries), some salespeople continue to outperform, even when they’re offering similar products and services to the same types of customers. What (exactly) are they doing to identify a broader range of needs, deliver more compelling messages, and gain a competitive advantage? The answer is actually quite simple. The “secret” to their success (or rather, their advantage) ultimately boils down to the fact that they are able to execute more effectively than the rest of the crowd.

You must assume that each of your competitors is also trying their best to identify new prospects, qualify, uncover needs, and so on. Thus, your results moving forward will ultimately be determined by your ability to accomplish those objectives more effectively than the rest of the masses. Of course, this might require upgrading your approach and adjusting some of the tactics that may have worked in the past, but no longer make sense in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace.

Bottom line: It’s important to recognize that the field on which the game of selling is now being played has changed. Instead of just identifying the steps of the sales process, top performers are figuring out that their ability to more effectively execute the steps of the sales process is more important than the process itself. That’s where technique and strategy come into play.

It is no longer enough for sellers to bury their heads and go through the motions of trying to identify new accounts, qualify, uncover needs etc. Instead, your success is more likely going to be determined by the softer skills—things like the ability to pique the customer’s interest to gain more mindshare from key decision makers in important target accounts. Or, broadening the customer’s needs, conveying more value than the competition, and creating a greater sense of urgency that will enable you to secure the commitments necessary to move forward with a decision to purchase your product or service.

The extent to which these “soft” interpersonal selling skills can be enhanced will have a direct impact on your bottom line results. They can give you what I like to call an “unfair” competitive advantage. So, why wait until the end of the year to scramble to make your numbers? Why not achieve your sales goals by the end of August, and then take it up a notch from there?

Doing this shifts the focus from simply thinking about the steps of the sales process “what” you’re trying to accomplish. Instead, your success in 2017 and beyond will be a direct correlation of “how” effectively you are able to execute within whatever process model your company currently has in place.

It’s going to be a very Happy New Year!

Boo! Why Cold Calling has Become So Scary…

October 27, 2016 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

Now that average response rates when reaching out to new prospects via email or when leaving voice-mail messages is down to less than 1%, and the fear of rejection is single biggest demotivator for salespeople and entire sales teams, it’s no wonder that trolling for new business has become increasingly more difficult.Scary Pumpkin

Couple that with the fact that decision makers are on the receiving end of an ever-increasing number of vendor solicitations, when the amount of information that is available on the Internet means customers are much less dependent on salespeople for information and ideas, prospecting for new opportunities is down right scary.

Quoting one of my sales managers from the past, “Tom, if it’s harder to find qualified prospects, then you simply need to make more cold calls.” Not surprisingly, this advice has outlived its usefulness given the current selling environment.

So, what are sellers supposed to do? If traditional approaches are no longer producing the desired results, perhaps it’s time to make a few adjustments to your prospecting strategy, and try something different.

As an example, opening with a “killer” phrase like, “I just wanted to take a few brief moments of your time,” is more likely to cause potential buyers to instantly delete your message rather than to favorably respond.

Why, you ask? It’s because when a vendor salesperson says something like, “I would like to…,” prospective customers who are on the receiving end of a steady stream of cold calls are more likely to hear, “I would like to accomplish my sales objectives by…”

While it’s clear what the salesperson is hoping to accomplish, this approach begs the question, “What’s in it for them?” Furthermore, how many deals have you successfully closed where you only needed “a few brief moments” of the customer’s time? I would guess the answer is very few, in which case, one has to wonder how opening with something that sounds disingenuous at best is going to help your sales efforts.

The real game-changer moving forward is understanding what causes prospects and customers to “want to” engagement with a salesperson they don’t yet know or trust. Ultimately, the answer boils down into one of two things: obligation or curiosity.

If we take a step back and ask, how many prospects feel ‘obligated’ to engage with a salesperson they don’t yet know or trust, that number starts too get pretty small, in which case, the business development pipeline and sales forecast tend to suffer as a result.

On the other hand, the only other reason prospects choose to favorably respond to a vendor solicitation is if you were able to pique their curiosity in some way. In fact, I have talking about the need to leverage curiosity as a way to secure more mindshare from key decision makers in important target accounts since my first sales book was published in 1999.

Simply put, if a prospect or customer is not the least bit curious about who you are, or what you can do for them, then filling your pipeline with prospect opportunities becomes a monumental task. Conversely, if you are able to pique a potential buyer’s curiosity about any number of things that are truly important (to them), then separating yourself from the rest of the ‘noise’ in the marketplace and engaging new prospects in a productive dialogue about their needs and your solutions can actually be quite easy, and yield stellar results.

The only remaining question is, what are you doing to leverage curiosity in the sales process? If the answer to that question is unclear, then I would submit that you and the entire rest of your sales team have a huge upside opportunity!

The Secret to Life…and Selling

September 19, 2016 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

H - without border

What if the secret to being successful in sales (and in life) could be boiled down into a simple mathematical formula that would apply to all your dealings, both personal and professional? Well, it can be. Here it is:

H = R – E

Happiness (H) equals the difference between expectations (E) and reality (R).

If you think about it, whenever you (or the product or service you deliver) falls short of the customer’s expectations, you will more than likely have an unhappy customer. Fortunately, the opposite is true. If you consistently exceed expectations, then you will likely have many happy customer relationships.

A salesperson cannot always control reality (R), however. When a shipment gets delayed, a product malfunctions, or some other mishap occurs, those things can cause the customer a great deal of angst. They can cause sellers a great deal of angst as well, particularly if competitive vendors are nipping at your heels in important accounts.

Like the bumper sticker says, “Stuff Happens!”

Consequently, my clients sometimes ask, “What’s the best way to recover when the sales process goes awry?” Ironically, there is no single “best way,” as most sales are situationally dependent.

But, rather than just sit back and hope everything goes well, the key to being successful in life (and in sales) is to be proactive in your dealings with customers. Being proactive gives sellers an opportunity to minimize the number of things that could go wrong.

For example, when I sold superservers for NetFrame Systems, every box was a custom order. So, by the time the decision maker got around to signing a purchase order, it wasn’t unusual for them to declare that they need it to be implemented… “Yesterday!” That sort of demand from the customer sets in motion a whole flurry of escalation activity and calls to speed up the typical 14 day manufacturing process.

Well, guess what happens when you “hurry” the manufacturing process of a highly sophisticated, precisely engineered product? Yep, quality can suffer, and all kinds of oversight issues enter into the equation that otherwise wouldn’t have. Even if the salesperson is able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat in order to deliver on the customer’s harried expectations, the vendor usually doesn’t get credit for extra effort—because they are simply delivering on what the customer expected.

Rather than continually trying to move mountains, I recommend focusing more on  proactively managing the customer’s expectations, rather than burning unnecessary cycles to deliver on unrealistic expectations. So, first and foremost, I would ask, “Mr. Customer, what are you expecting with regard to ____________?” It’s quite possible their expectations are already in line with your ability to deliver, in which case, there’s no need to promise the moon and the stars in an attempt to earn their business.

Trust me, every customer who signed a P.O. for $200,000 to purchase a superserver was sure to ask, “How soon can we get the product installed?” My response—“To be safe, you should plan on a lead-time of 30 days.” In fact, rather than waiting for customers to ask about delivery, I made it a point to set their expectations in advance.

Of course, when the customer’s NetFrame arrived in two weeks (the usual lead-time for delivery), I would call the customer and let them know that… “I was able to pull some strings and get their box sooner than expected.” Of course, they were happy (H), because reality (R) exceed their expectations (E). Even when the build took three or four weeks, customers were just as happy, because the expectation had been set that they should plan on 30 days.

In sales, as in life, we can’t always control reality, but there are many opportunities to proactively manage the expectations of your customers, your colleagues, your boss, your children, your spouse, and anyone else who expects you to deliver as promised.

Traditional Relationship-Building is Overrated

August 19, 2016 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

funnelBeing outgoing, gregarious, and friendly used to be the savvy salesperson’s ticket to penetrating new accounts. Today, key decision makers on your target list of prospects already have plenty of friends. And, given the sheer volume of solicitations that come in on a daily basis, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the next cold call that gets lobbed in the customer’s direction has only a very small chance of success.

Some of the reason sellers are experiencing such low hit-rates is self-inflicted, by using traditional catch-phrases like, “I would love to…”, or, “I just need a brief moment of your time.” Decision makers know you’re not just looking for a brief moment of their time. They also assume salespeople have quotas to hit and would really “love” to boost their commissions.

No doubt your intentions are good, as most salespeople are earnestly trying to provide value to their customers. The challenge is separating yourself from the countless other solicitations potential buyers receive on a daily basis, and then causing decision makers to “want to” engage with you.

Suppose if it were possible to reverse this trend. What if you could create an 80%+ success rate when reaching out to new prospects, rather than continue enduring the typical 90%+ failure rate? How is this possible, you might ask?

Acquiring the skills necessary to fill your pipeline faster, and with more qualified prospects, is actually easier than one might think. But, it does require sellers to have an appreciation of next-generation selling skills, which is very different than just trying to ‘buddy’ your way into potential opportunities.

There’s no magic, and God knows old-school sales tricks or gimmicks aren’t going to work moving forward. Instead, there are a few very important questions individual sellers (and entire sales teams) should be asking themselves, like:

• What are you doing to leverage curiosity to get mindshare from key decision makers in target accounts?
• What Diagnostic Questions™ are you asking to convey credibility?
• How does opening with a generic elevator pitch differentiate you from competitors who are making similar claims?
• What are you doing to secure incremental commitments on the way to the larger sale?

When you’re on the receiving end of cold calls at home, I bet you’re not excited about giving information to people you don’t yet know and trust. So, why should we expect the old-school mentality of trying to “befriend” prospective customers, if that strategy no longer works on you or me? Hmmm…

Effective Sales Coaching Requires More Than Just Tracking Deals

July 7, 2016 by QBS Research, Inc.  
Filed under articles

Throughout my pilgrimage in developing and training the QBS Methodology, I have always totally supported the notion of qualifying prospect opportunities, in order to know how to best allocate your available sales resources and proactively manage the sales forecast. But, just asking a bunch of qualifying questions to track deals on the forecast hardly qualifies as effective sales coaching.

It turn out that the tracking questions sales managers tend to ask over the years hasn’t changed much, as it’s no surprise that the goal is to try and discern where various opportunities stand, in addition to understanding what needs to happen to further the sales cycle, and ultimately consummate a business transaction.

Typical sales tracking questions include:

  • Who is the primary decision maker?
  • What’s their timeframe for making a decision?
  • Who else needs to be involved in the discussion?
  • What are the prospect’s primary business drivers?
  • How much is the projected deal worth?
  • What are the potential next steps in their evaluation?
  • Which competitors pose the greatest threat?
  • Is there any way to close the business sooner?

The answers to these questions are valuable in terms of strategically targeting the efforts of the sales team. However, this line of questioning does little to help sellers know how to execute more effectively. You will also notice that while these questions help to track the status of prospect opportunities, just asking a bunch of “status” questions provides little value to the customer.

Understanding the status of a forecasted deal is not coaching. Using a sports analogy, when a manager’s only focus is asking a series of questions to track the status of various deals, that’s the equivalent of a football coach showing up in the locker room after a game, and asking questions to find out what happened during the actual contest.

Question GuyTrue coaching, whether we’re using a sports analogy or actually talking about selling, is a proactive exercise to make sure individual players (or your entire team) are prepared to execute as effectively as possible. Thus, in Chapter 3 of my recently released book (SalesForce 2020), I have catalogued a series of coaching questions we use in Question Based Selling to cause salespeople (and managers alike) to think more deeply about specific objectives for upcoming calls, and how exactly they plan to accomplish those goals.

Here a few examples of what proactive coaching questions sound like:

  • How many reasons do you want customers to have to buy from you?
  • What’s your strategy for gaining credibility early in the call?
  • What’s your strategy for causing prospects to “want to” share information with a salesperson they don’t yet know or trust?
  • What are you doing to leverage curiosity in the sales process?
  • What makes you purposeful and relevant in the eyes of a customer?
  • Will you be perceived as customer-focused or self-serving?
  • How will you differentiate yourself from all the competitive reps who are out there calling your same list of target accounts?

Ultimately, the most productive form of coaching is self-coaching—having the awareness (in advance) to know how to handle various sales situations, knowing that your sales manager isn’t always going to be available to tell you what to say.

What do I mean by self-coaching? Here is yet another list of proactive sales questions that sellers should consistently be asking themselves.

  • What advantages do I have over competitive options, including the decision to do nothing or maintain the status quo?
  • If I repeatedly get a prospect’s voice-mail, what message can I leave that will cause them to become curious enough to “want to” return my call?
  • What business issues or decision factors am I prepared to raise (that otherwise may not come up) in my next customer conversation?
  • How can I create mini-invitations that will lower the prospect’s natural defenses and help propel opportunities forward?
  • Which Diagnostic Questions™ am I going to use to kick-off my next needs development conversations?
  • How can I position our solutions as the most cost-effective alternative that accomplishes the customer’s objectives?
  • How can I close for a commitment or suggest possible next steps without sounding pushy or self-serving?
  • How can I help internal champions secure the necessary approvals from their counterparts or manager, especially if I’m not in the meeting?
  • What could I do to be more effective than on my last customer call?

two booksNotice that these self-coaching questions are all scripted in the first person? With all there is to consider about coaching sales teams or empowering yourself on how to be more effective, my philosophy on skills development is actually pretty straightforward. This is not the time to sit back and wait for someone else to make you successful. There is plenty of guidance available to sellers, in the form of books, audio programs, and live sales training courses. But, do pick wisely, as I’ve made a career out of un-teaching traditional sales approaches, instead showing salespeople and sales organizations how to separate themselves from older-school paradigms that have been touted for decades, but no longer apply in the real world.

And, since it’s impossible to earn a PhD in sales from your favorite university, it’s incumbent on top performers to focus on those things that will produce the greatest return on invested sales effort (ROISE). This includes becoming a student of “how” to more effectively execute each of the steps in your company’s coveted sales process.

(This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 in Tom Freese’s new book, SalesForce 2020.)

So many questions to ask, yet prospects give us so little time.

May 21, 2016 by QBS Research, Inc.  
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While sellers are eager to ask a litany of sales questions, customers are often just as eager to get off the phone. In fact, shrinking time windows to engage prospective customers in a productive conversation about how your solutions can address the customer’s needs has made it more difficult to sell than ever before.Stopwatch

As salespeople, of course we want to ask questions to gain a better handle on the customer’s needs. Sellers also want to qualify the opportunity, understanding who else needs to be involved in the decision, the customer’s timeframe for moving forward, in addition to other qualifiers like funding, logistics, and the approval process.

While it’s more than fair for sellers to want to know where an opportunity stands, salespeople must begin to realize that while most of the qualifying questions they want to ask benefit the salesperson, but don’t do much to benefit the customer.

And, with some many salespeople knocking on the door trying to either get a foot in the door within a particular account, or expand their opportunity, the customer’s tolerance for spending time answering a barrage of sales questions has decreased significantly.

Thus, if you want to be successful moving forward, it’s incumbent on sellers to do something that causes customers to “want to” share more information, rather than hope than rely on the hope that potential buyers will feel obligated to respond to every query that a salesperson happens to throw their way.

How can sellers expand the window for discovery and qualification when dealing with today’s increasingly standoffish customers? That’s where the strategies and techniques outline in Question Based Selling can make or break your opportunity to sell.