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 turns 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 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.
True 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, here are some 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’s 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?
Notice 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 pick wisely, as I’ve made a career out of 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.