I have been selling for nearly 20 years; however, I don’t consider myself a salesperson. I prefer to think of myself as a consultant. I believe that an excellent salesperson helps uncover needs and then shares solutions to those needs and problems. There are a couple of tools that are imperative to a good consultative salesperson’s toolbox: proper preparation and solid fact finding.
Know your subject.
A recent thread on Quora posed the question, “What is the single most illuminating question I can ask someone?” Jodi Kantor, a New York Times reporter and author of a book about the Obamas, chimed in that there is no “single most illuminating question.” According to Kantor, “To ask a really high-yielding question, you need to have done your homework.”
This is especially true when you’re talking to people who are used to being interviewed. Kantor described an interview she did with the President and First Lady: “I had come to understand that equality was a serious issue in the Obama marriage, and that in the White House, the president and first lady are not treated in the same way at all. So I summoned up my nerve and asked them, ‘How do you have an equal marriage when one person is president?’” Their replies were much more illuminating than if Kantor had asked something more generic like, “What are your thoughts on gender equality?”
It is important that fact-finding be conversational. No one likes to be interrogated.
Asking open-ended questions is central to uncovering needs, concerns, obstacles, pain, etc. when a sales consultant is looking to match needs with solutions. Open-ended questions are designed to encourage objective answers and fully explain how, where and what is causing pain. "How," "Why," or "Tell me about" are typical open-ended questions.
It is important that fact-finding be conversational. No one likes to be interrogated. People will share much more information if they are comfortable with the flow of the conversation.
Examples of closed-ended questions:
- Is your current supplier delivering on time?
- Are you seeking new customers in surrounding states?
- Do you have a plan to increase sales?
Examples of open-ended questions:
- How efficient is your current supplier at getting goods to you?
- Tell me how that affects production?
- How does this make you feel?
- What ways are you reaching new customers?
- Where do your customers come from?
- Where are you looking for new customers?
- Explain to me, a little more, ways that you will reach your sales goals?
Write questions ahead of time, but prioritize conversation.
As you do proper prior planning (the 3 Ps), you will discover information that will help uncover needs and help you deliver solutions. You will find out which questions you still need to ask during fact-finding, or that you need to ask to help your prospect see problems they may not know they have.
Write down 20 questions, but prioritize; you will most likely only ask 8 to 10 of them. If you find that you need to ask all 20 questions, then it is no longer a conversation. Your prospect will know that you have not done your homework.
I have learned over the years that doing my homework and doing fact-finding are the best strategy to get a signature. Prospects will turn into long-time customers and they will value your expertise and recommendations. Your customers will know that you have their best interest at heart. Monetary rewards will automatically follow as your skills for top-notch proper prior planning and excellent listening and fact-finding skills are honed.