I once read of an expedition to find hidden treasures in the Middle East. Rumour had it that wealth beyond compare had been buried in caves by ancient people who had been trying to escape war-mongering looters.
The surveys carried out had revealed there were indeed treasures to be found beneath the surface of the ground in the caves that had been the subject of their investigations.
Sure enough, just days into the search, many treasures were unearthed and the team were ecstatic at their findings. Gold, jewels and silver were taken away, examined, dated, valued and put on display at various museums. The findings were seen as a treasure trove from the past.
Years later, other excavators decided to re-examine the caves. This particular team felt that not all the treasure had been uncovered. They felt there may well have been more hidden deeper in the caves, and that the original teams had stopped digging too early when they found the treasures.
Sure enough, after digging only a relatively few feet further down, this new team uncovered more valuable treasures, valued even more than the original find.
If the first team had only continued digging, they would also have found these buried treasures. They were literally just a few feet from finding even more value than they had originally uncovered.
When I read this, it reminded me that the best salespeople are able to uncover and find out much valuable information about a prospect if only they were to dig deeper. We can do this by recognising that the quality of our questions will determine the quality of the information we obtain.
We can catagorise questions into three levels: Surface, shallow and deep.
If we seek for something at the surface, it won’t reveal much of what is hidden. Similarly, surface questions won’t uncover much detail.
Surface questions could include, for example, “How is business?” “Judging by the photos on your desk, I see you have two children, yes?” “How many salespeople do you have at the moment? “What kind of products sell best for you?”
You may need to start of with ‘surface’ enquiries, but they don’t reveal very much about the business or the way the person makes decisions. We need to dive a little deeper.
Shallow questions build on the information you have uncovered. They could include, for example, “How do today’s figures compare with last year’s?” “What further inroads into this market could you make if you were able to?” “How has the improving economy affected the way you market your products?”
These are slightly deeper questions and obtain more information. They could uncover more treasures as the prospect reveals more about their business and future plans. These ‘shallow’ level questions reveal whether you are able to assist the prospect in a more meaningful way.
These type of questions open the way to the level of questioning that reveals the real treasures…the depth of which will help you to present solutions that create opportunities for the prospect that maybe they hadn’t seen before. ‘Deep’ questions uncover information and build on previous data that may well take the discovery journey on a different path or deeper purposes.
Examples might include, “So with the increase in business you’ve seen in the last few months, what changes to your current business practices will help support the further growth you are expecting?”
“If the current trend continues, how do you see the departmental structure and set-up in the next few months?”
“ Could you describe the criteria you will be using to choose your future business partner, so you are certain that relationship will bring the desired results you have described?”
You’ll notice these questions dig deeper to get the prospect to open up about the future operations and allow you to formulate plans that will assist in their business development.
You then have the chance to build your future partnership with the prospect instead of it becoming a transactional-type relationship, built on shallow foundations with surface or shallow information.
So, think through in your call-preparation what information would help you get the most information possible from the prospect. Imagine you only had time to ask three questions. What would those questions be to get the best and most useful information possible? Those would then be the ‘deep’ questions that you could ask during the conversation.
Treasure could be buried deep in the ground, and it could take time and effort to uncover it. When you do, you may discover opportunities that wouldn’t have been available previously.
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A few years ago I was privileged to hear an American speaker discuss what were the worst habits that salespeople displayed.
Among some of the answers that came up were poor listening, presenting the products too early and having a different agenda to the customer.
But one habit that shone out above most of the others was the inability to listen effectively because of dominating the conversation. The question was asked, ‘why is this so, since most salespeople know that listening to the needs of the client is a pre-requisite to gaining trust, building relationships and having that snowball’s chance of selling anything?’
Well, here are some perspectives on why they can’t stop giving it all the yap-yap-yap:
1) The customer needs to be educated about our product, so I have to tell them, don’t I?
Yes. But there’s a time that’s right to do it and …..
Too many salespeople think that if they speak a lot about their products and services, some of the mud they are throwing will stick. The truth is that the customer isn’t really bothered about the product. All they want to know is will it solve my problem or help me achieve my goals. That’s it. Period. You rabbiting on about you, your company and what you sell is bound to put off even a serious buyer.
2) It keeps me in control
Really? Why do you need to be in control all the time? And does you monopolising the conversation actually put you in control or just tee the customer off?
Actually, he who asks the most questions (and listens carefully and actively to the answers) actually controls the conversation. Think about it for a moment. When you ask a question, you are controlling the thought processes of the prospect. Your power questions enable you to formulate the thoughts of the other person and helps you to direct the conversation. So, in fact, speaking less and listening more puts you more in control.
3) It’s easier than having to plan
Yes, this is true, as well. Just ‘winging’ it by using your extensive product knowledge may blind the prospect with science and technology, but it’s no substitute for planning and preparing the sales call effectively in order to gain the best possible result for you and the prospect.
Being aware of why you might be talking yourself out of a commitment from the prospect may be the best conscious decision you can make. By building a questioning process that drives the information-gathering from the prospect, you find the ideal way to stop yourself from talking to much and building good rapport with the prospect who may well become your client.
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Many salespeople tell me that the greatest skill they can develop is that of excellent communications. And I would agree. Unless you are excelling at this most vital of skills, you risk missing many opportunities that exist out there.
However, most salespeople we train overestimate the quality of their communication skills, some by a vast amount. If I were to ask you how you would rate your listening and questioning skills out of ten, how many of you would say ‘minus two’?!
We think we are good at communicating because we get the sale and we have a bunch of customers who keep coming back to us. But what about the next step in communicating? Here’s my take on things: Salespeople with good listening skills will hear the issues their prospect has. Salespeople with good questioning skills will identify the problems causing those issues. Salespeople with both listening and questioning skills will be able to reiterate those problems and issues.
All good and fine so far. But let’s go further. Some of the best salespeople I’ve met have the ability to recognise the one compelling thing for which their prospect will invest money. You must be able to perceive the one thing that might not even be on the list, and this involves deeper listening and reading between the lines of what might be greater opportunities for the prospect than they had originally thought. It’s deeper than just being a salesperson, deeper even than being a consultant.
It’s partnering with the business in a way that creates opportunities for both parties, rather than just solving current problems. That prospect will spend money with your company to no longer feel overwhelmed with their whole list of issues because you will help them achieve things they couldn’t do with anyone else.
Can you imagine being in the prospect’s shoes when they see rewards they hadn’t seen before, see challenges lifted that they couldn’t see past? Can you identify those areas of concern that has been restricting their business opportunities? If you can, you show yourself as the kind of company and salesperson they cannot do their business without.
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Many salespeople are getting the message that the customer is not interested in their products and services. They are only interested in the outcomes those products and services will provide for them.
Your job is to identify how you can assist your customers achieve their goals, and the clearer you can show your prospect the results your products will provide for them, the better your chances of achieving the sale.
The gap between their present performance and what they need provides both the rationale and the motivation to move forward with you and your solution.
So it’s this gap that you should be concentrating on. If your prospect sees the benefits of using you, and how you can help them achieve their goals, then you will probably see success.
You can ask questions to determine what this gap is. Something like: “How do you see business for you in the next 24-36 months? What will have to happen for you to achieve your goals during that time? Which new markets could you be working in if you had the support and assistance to do so?”
These kind of questions get the prospect to think about the gap that exists between where they are now and where they could be if they had your services.
This gives you the chance to present your solution in line with bridging that gap and solving their problems.
The more you can identify how you can assist in getting the prospect closer to their goal, the better the chance you have of building the relationship.
Identify the gap, fill it and watch your sales increase!
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