Build your own questions library OR secrets of a sales professional: How I sold millions in new business with NO talking or telling
May I let you in on a little secret? During my sales career I have been blessed to obtain millions of dollars of new business and never use a sales pitch. Instead of talking to and telling prospects, I’ve used an interview process much like you might use to hire someone.
What’s my secret? It lines up perfectly with the July 4, 2013 Harvard Business Review article, “If You Want to Influence Others, Listen to Them.” It’s not that I haven’t had plenty of sales training. Over time, my experience has provided the insight and motivation to simplify and modernize my sales methodology.
Given the challenges most people face today, you don’t have time to learn the hard way like I did. If you are responsible for growth in your business, and if you take seriously the tips I share here (all based on my proven track-record and years of experience), this article is a game-changer. In each tip, you learn how to develop new, productive habits that leverage your ability to effectively connect with, influence and serve your prospects.
Three important circumstances led me down the path to become a high achiever and to learn how to obtain new business, especially in selling situations where relationships matter.
First, early in my career, I had experience as a purchasing agent that forever changed how I engage prospects.
In that role, my most meaningful sales experience was as a buyer of $400 million of services across the United States. As I sat across the table from a parade of talented salespeople, it dawned on me that they all had one thing in common that turned me off…they were all trying to “sell me”. They tried to talk their way into doing business with my company. I vowed not to become that salesperson.
Second, several years ago I was introduced to the principles of neuroscience and its effects on good communications. Practical neuroscience reveals our sensory and cognitive processing strengths, providing a simple recipe to communicate with others in optimal ways.
Neuroscience expert, Stephen Hager says, “Based on statistics, most people should talk less and communicate more visually and kinesthetically. Attentive and respectful listening sends a strong message you care about the other person; talking, alone, may introduce an element of doubt about your intention and integrity.”
Third, in my last role in corporate America, I realized that the traditional skills developed by sales professionals aren’t always enough. I was VP of Sales for a team of more than 100 commissioned salespeople. Our company philosophy had been to focus on selling our own products and services. Eventually, when we were acquired, the new company philosophy was to focus on the customer’s agenda first and foremost.
For most of their career, many of our highly successful salespeople were good talkers and tellers. I noticed how difficult it was, even for experienced successful salespeople, to know what questions to ask, when to ask questions, and how to effectively use questions to make more money.
This was an ‘aha’ moment for me! Finally, all the pieces to the successful selling puzzle were clear to me: Standardize, build, and maintain a sales library of relevant questions and capitalize on my listening skills as identified by the Brain Pathways neuroscience assessment Brain Pathways.
Today my questions library includes more than 100 tried-and-true probing-style open-ended questions based upon the effectiveness of previous prospect interviews.
Enough about me and my experience…
Do you avoid selling like the plague? Then you are like most of my clients who are totally turned off about spending time growing their businesses because of their perception of what it means to sell.
In this article, I intend to shift that paradigm to a more useful and productive perspective so that you achieve sales success and do away with the myth that selling is a matter of being pushy or talkative.
The traditional ABC’s of selling no longer work
Salesforce.com was recently quoted as saying, “Sales has changed more in the last ten years than in the previous hundred. The traditional ABC’s of selling no longer work in the digital age. The balance of power has shifted from sellers to buyers, and it’s no longer enough to rely on memorized call scripts and standard objections.”
You have heard the expression, “People buy from people they know, like, and trust.” Talking and telling doesn’t appeal to any of those relationship-oriented buyers. But what should you focus on?
Simple. Develop the habit of asking great questions, listening, offering solutions, and solving problems.
Before we deep dive into the questions library tool, though, I invite you to examine buyer’s motives more closely to gain a sense of certainty for investing your time in the interview process.
Questions reveal buyer motivations
On a basic level, buyers want to learn if you have character and if you are competent. Is your behavior consistent with what you say and whether-or-not you know what you are talking about?
Building a level of trust with buyers is critical to having a foundational relationship. One method to find out about a buyer’s motives is to show interest by being observant and making comments about your observations. A much more powerful method of finding out what motivates a prospect is to ask a series of planned-out questions and then take act on what you discover through the questioning process.
Most of us ask questions during a prospect call. The problem comes about because we ask questions in a random manner. Consequently, we obtain random information and results.
Collect useful, targeted information with a questions library
Why is a questions library important? The purpose of a library, in the broadest sense, is to collect and preserve knowledge. A questions library is created to warehouse specific types of knowledge about your potential customers’ needs and motives. The library creates an archive of questions customized to each based upon the situation, then reused and sorted into various categories.
Knowing what questions to ask, when to ask, and how to ask, is critical to executing on a successful questions library. Follow these three recommended steps to building and using your questions library:
- Start right now! Don’t make another call without using a questioning strategy to better engage your prospect.
- Think about your most successful calls from the past. What topics seemed to be most interesting to your prospective customer? More than likely, it was when the prospect was talking, and you were listening.
- Keep adding new questions to your library, as you find out what works best.
How to use questions in a sales interview
Once you have a collection of relevant questions that help you engage potential customers, you want to refine your use of them. Here are a few pointers from my own experience:
- Question can be open ended or closed, depending upon your objectives. Open ended questions begin with the words who, what, where, when, why or tell me about. Open ended questions are most effective when you want to engage in a discussion exploring many possibilities. Closed questions are more effective if you prefer to limit the discussion to one or two topics.
- The purpose for each question helps control the flow of the interview. Arrange the questions into E.G.O. question sections: ‘Engage,’ ‘Genuine Interest,’ and ‘Opportunities’ questions.
- ‘Engage’ questions typically come first and are designed to gain information about what causes your buyer to be passionate or excited. They are based upon research you’ve done on the prospect, their products, services or brand. Questions may relate to new developments in the prospects’ industry, their profession, or their outside interests.
- ‘Genuine Interest’ questions typically come next. These questions are focused on challenges/issues related to the prospects’ business or customers. Use rephrasing and listening with ‘Genuine Interest’ questions. For example,” I’d like to find out more about how you reach your potential customers.” “What are your best strategies?” “Tell me a few stories about how you got started and when you’ve been most successful?”
- ‘Opportunities’ questions typically come last and are related to the prospect’s readiness to explore solutions. For example, “How much time could you save if…,” “What if there were a way to…,” What if you thought about…,” “ I’m interested in your reaction to a couple of ideas I have for addressing that issue.”
A few final tips
First, always find out how much time your prospect has set aside for your interview. The answer may have an impact upon what kinds of questions you ask and how many.
And finally, in addition to utilizing an active questions library, here are two common mistakes you can avoid when conducting prospect interviews:
- No clear objective: Always know what the purpose of the call is and keep it in mind throughout the call. After the call, evaluate whether-or-not you accomplished the purpose.
- No plan for follow-up. Always have a next step as a result of the call
In his timeless book The Greatest Salesman in the World, author Og Mandino said, “In truth, the only difference between those who have failed and those who have succeeded lies in the difference of their habits. Good habits are key to all success. Bad habits are the unlocked door to failure. Thus, the first law I will obey, which precedes all others is — I will form good habits and become their slave.”
When you develop the habit of asking good questions and truly listening to your prospect’s priority agenda, you are on the road to building relationships, developing referrals, and obtaining new business beyond your wildest dreams!