The phone rang. It was Sharon calling. She sounded glum, and there was no energy or life in her voice.
“What’s wrong?” her coach asked.
She explained that business was slow. She wasn’t finding any opportunities, and she wasn’t making any money. Her boss, to make matters worse, had just told her that if she didn’t start making more sales, he was going to have to let her go.
“What do you mean by “business is slow?”, her coach asked, wanting to dig deep into the issue. “What are you doing with your days?”
Sharon explained that she called both new and old prospects every day but didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
“What are these prospects saying to you?” he asked.
She explained that her conversations with prospects, both over the phone and in person, went well, but when it came time to move the discussion forward, they would say things like:
“we don’t have any money in the budget at this time.”
“we’re not in the market today.”
“business is slow, so we’re holding back on all discretionary expenditures.”
Sharon is in the executive recruiting business. She helps companies find great talent so they can grow, prosper, and become more successful. She’s been in the industry for several years and has done reasonably well — that is, until now.
Her coach, intrigued, asked her, “What questions are you asking your prospects that are causing them to give you these responses?”
There was a long pause as she thought about this question. She finally replied that she was asking the same questions she had always asked:
“Do you need any employees, managers, or senior executives?”
“Would you like to hire my firm to help you find employees?”
“We’re more experienced than our competitors. Why don’t you do business with us?”
When the coach heard Sharon’s questions, bells and whistles started going off in his head: Sharon was asking the wrong questions.
Asking The Right Questions
Over the next few weeks, Sharon practiced the art of asking great questions with her coach.
Right away, she stopped using PowerPoint presentations and started using sheets of white paper and coloured markers instead. She stopped talking about herself and got the prospective clients to talk about themselves and their needs instead.
During meetings, she began asking her prospects detailed, pointed questions. What were they trying to accomplish? What was or wasn’t working, about their goals, and their strategic initiatives? She took detailed notes. Then she began asking questions about their executive talent needs and how these executives could help them achieve their goals.
She asked questions about how business was currently conducted and about who was making the decisions that should be made by the person they needed — but hadn’t yet hired.
These questions made her prospective clients think and often made them uncomfortable. By asking these questions, Sharon showed her prospects that she had a firm grasp of their businesses. She was able to highlight the “costs” of not having the right management team in place.
She even asked one prospect, “On a scale of one to ten, where would you rate your need to have an executive in this position?”
He replied, “Eleven!”
The prospect hired her. And within a few weeks, Sharon was hired to perform four more executive searches and had two or three more opportunities that she expected to close within a few weeks.
The Art of Asking Great Questions
Most salespeople only ask questions so they can get the other person to say something — anything. Then they can offer a rebuttal statement, almost like an attorney cross-examining a witness.
Salespeople don’t ask a second, third, or fourth question to dig deeper. They don’t listen or ask implication questions. Instead, they pounce on every opportunity to close or prove a point.
Sales are like playing poker. When you’re playing cards, do you want the other players to know what you have in your hand? Of course not. But do you want others to play their hands open, so you can see every card they’re holding? Absolutely!
Unfortunately, as salespeople, we often spend all of our time telling the customer about our company, products, and services without ever finding out what it is that the customer wants or needs. We don’t take time to figure out the problem.
At the end of the meeting, the customer knows all about us (if he or she hasn’t fallen asleep or tuned us out), but we know very little, or nothing about the customer.
By asking better questions and showing interest in the answers (really listening), you can discover what the customer’s challenges are. Only then should you offer a solution.
A recent study shows that in many large companies, 80 percent of the sales are generated by 20 percent of the salespeople, which shouldn’t be surprising.
But this study went even deeper. It found that the top 5 percent, the superstars, generated 60 percent of the sales, or more. Fifteen percent of the salespeople generated 20 percent of the sales, and the other 20 percent was generated by the remaining 80 percent of the salespeople.
So what’s the difference between superstars and everybody else? Superstars find out what the customer truly needs while the others make pitches based on what they think the customer wants.
Spend more time asking great questions and listening to the answers. Your sales will grow.
Business & Leadership Coach
403.690.8363 or firstname.lastname@example.org