Are your questions killing the sale?

Sales question gapsProspecting can be tough and so can getting calls returned. When a sales person finally gets that prospect’s call, many fail to quickly establish credibility and ultimately lose the sale, without ever realizing their fatal flaw.

Whenever I begin working with sales teams and leaders struggling in areas like prospecting and quickly establishing credibility, I typically look at their first phone conversation with prospects, and where the reps begin.

Reps who struggle with establishing credibility and getting to deeper business issues are starting at the wrong level!

If you are a sales rep, consider your typical opening statement and question to a prospect and consider what level of expertise your question says about you. For the Sales Manager, consider how you are advising your reps to begin conversations with prospects.

Are your questions killing your opportunities?
Whether you realize it or not, your opening question suggests a lot about your ability to be a credible solution for the prospect.  Consider it this way – When it comes to demonstrating your knowledge about customers [similar to the prospect], their industry, and the biggest issues they face, does your opening question suggest you know…

1. More about these areas than the prospect?
2. Equal to the prospect?
3. Less than the prospect?

Considering the picture above, if what the prospect knows about their own circumstances and how to solve them is the upper hand, the questions asked by so many reps comes in at a much lower level. In other words, the rep’s beginning questions are probing and exploratory, suggesting “I don’t know you, so let me ask you a number of questions that will allow me to better understand you. Once I know enough, I can help you.” If you are unsure if your questions fit the criteria, the questions typically start with, “Tell me about…” or the Five W’s.

The Challenger Sale [appropriately] refers to this as Solutions Fatigue.

Keep in mind that while the rep has already implied that they don’t know the prospect, the prospect doesn’t know the rep either. Since the opening question suggested that they know less than the prospect on business issues similar to theirs and their industry, the prospect has one goal in mind… be brief and share as little as possible to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

After all, for the rep to be able to help, the prospect would first need to bring the rep up to speed, train on where their problems occur and why, then expect the rep’s learning to surpass their own, so that the rep can lead them to better outcomes with the supplier’s solutions.

Talk about a tough sell. There is a better way.

In my next post, so as not to leave you hanging with the problem and no proposed solution, I will address what The Challenger Sale refers to as the Warmer. This is where the aim is to build credibility quickly without being a supplier-centric monologue about yourself or your company.

As a preview of the next post, the aim will be to give a practical example of leading to questions at a higher level – one which suggests you know more about customers just like them, and their industry and typical problems they are encountering…or about to encounter.

Jeff Michaels | Repeatable SuccessJeff Michaels is a Sales & Marketing Executive that has worked with executives, leaders, & teams for 25 years to create repeatable success regardless of industry, economy or circumstance.

4 thoughts on “Are your questions killing the sale?

  1. Jeff, If its not a Challenger pun, “you hit the nail on the head”: ‘Problem Fatigue’, ‘Salt in the wound’ Salespeople, and ’empty’ Solutions are killing Sales opportunities. Looking forward to your “warmer” piece.

    • Brian – While TCS refers to it as Solutions Fatigue, I like your characterization of it in the form of “Problem Fatigue.” That is a pretty descriptive depiction of what really happens. Reps spend so much time exploring what the prospect’s problems are, that the prospect becomes exhausted by the time the rep feels adequately informed to address solutions. It’s a flawed model as you know and have seen. Sometimes its fun to preach to the choir. ;o) Thanks for your comments, Brian.

  2. Outstanding Question and Insight!

    This is why I always say, that a company must bring all of it’s focus and energy to bear on the process of creating and establishing a high impact, solutions based value statement that continually brands the company throughtout the entire sales processs and beyond.

    This is why I always say that Wordsmithing and Wordcraftsmenship is of the highest import to a comoanys overall existence.

    • @thewisevisionary7 – Thanks for the comments. I agree that ‘branding’ is important. I would state our role and the process of building our brand throughout the process a bit differently, however.

      Rather than a “solutions based value statement,” I would consider it more as hypothesis based (i.e., We have a hypothesis [that needs to be validated] about what issues the prospect is likely encountering].

      When we take this approach to keep the focus on them by showing we understand their world, we have an engaged prospect and are able to ‘lead to’ our solution toward the end of the discussion.

      We do more branding for our company and our ability to help them by demonstrating we understand them and have helped many companies just like them, than we do by telling them who we are. Prospects just don’t care about that until they have a reason to do. I write a bit about this in my post, ‘Challenger Sale: Use a Warmer to Build Credibility.’

      Again, thank you so much for your comments and thoughts. This is always appreciated!

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