Many sales people say to me that they just don’t know the best questions to ask their clients.
Let’s start turning that around right now…
My first reaction to that statement is usually, “why do you need the best?” They almost always reply along the lines of, “ok, not the best then, just good questions to move the sale forwards.” (See what a good sales question does? We all feel much better after clarifying that.)
You don’t need the best, you need the one’s that make the sale and create mutual wins.
Learn your questions
And you can work out what some of those are using this process ahead. Then if you think about them and rehearse them (when in the shower if you like – I’m not joking – it’s a great time to review your opportunity questions as learning and retention increase when relaxed) they’ll magically come out of your mouth at the right times and sales will come more easily.
There are lots of ways to prepare such questions, and obviously doing research up front enables you to conversationally probe and understand your customer’s world and the risks, pains, hopes and dreams of your customers, whilst then exploring how your solutions might change their world for the better. So we’ll look at doing research another day.
But for today, you can get straight down to developing some excellent opportunity-scanning questions based on what you currently know.
Just work through this exercise:
1.Draw up 4 columns on a landscape worksheet (or use a free tool like Trello) and label them:
Questions: Triggers: Solutions: Stories
2.In the ‘solutions’ column, list your top products, services, or whatever value you provide to customers, not just your own, but the broader offerings of your organisation that are relevant to your customers.
If this list is long, start with your top three most relevant and schedule to continue with the next three in a week or two. Keep this simple. Don’t get overwhelmed.
3.Are you familiar with ‘trigger signals’? Trigger signals are the events, things that happen or snippets of information you hear that indicate to you that your solution may be of value to your customer. If I’m selling ice creams, a trigger might be that a customer has kids, or that they’re going to the park for the weekend, or that it’s sunny tomorrow. They’re all good triggers for selling ice cream.
Jot down in the ‘triggers’ column any triggers that might indicate opportunities to explore if your solutions may be useful to your customer. Make sure you talk to the right colleagues here to get specific triggers for the solutions they are more familiar with.
4.In the ‘stories’ column, write the title of a customer success story that helps prospective customers to understand how beneficial your solution really was. If it worked for someone else in a similar situation, it might just work for them too!
You can use your own stories and experience or talk to your colleagues to get their stories. Or visit your organisation’s website and check out any testimonials or case studies.
It’s useful to find stories that started with the very trigger signals you’re looking out for and led to a realisation of that problem and the potential cost, followed by your solution and what it did for them. You’re looking for high-impact, emotional and meaningful stories, but don’t get hung up on this. Any relevant story is better than no story.
Telling your short story
Keep the story short and punchy, and practice telling it in the format of ‘problem the customer faced (linked to the trigger ideally)’ followed by ‘impact of this on them’ followed by ‘your solution and it’s impact on them’. But don’t try to make an acronym out of those last 3 things as you’ll regret it. Although it’s possible I’ve just helped you commit them to memory 😉
E.g. Selling ice cream?
I might have got some great feedback from some recent customers who held their kid’s birthday party at the local park on a sunny day (that’s the trigger).
They were hot, thirsty and hungry after some energetic games in the sun (problem and impact) and after talking to one of the parents, we decided that I would quickly pull together a simple ‘ice-cream cake’ with the birthday girls’ name written in strawberry sauce (solution), and which the kids thought was the highlight of the day (impact). The story title I write down in my column is “ice-cream cake”.
5.And finally, all you need to do now is identify those triggers in your customer’s world.
So how do you do that?
Simple, just write down in your ‘questions’ column some questions you could ask, the answers of which expose the triggers.
E.g. For ice cream sales I might ask, “I see it’s going to be sunny this weekend – are you up to anything exciting?” increases your chances of revealing that the customer is taking their kids to the park. If they are, your sales radar starts beeping.
Learn your questions and stories. Many people struggle to do this effectively, but it’s key to not only being able to engage and connect with your customers but also to FEEL confident about talking with them in the first place. Many non-sales people don’t engage customers in conversation simply because they don’t feel prepared to do so.
If you feel you don’t have time to learn them, keep in mind that there are some powerful learning tricks you can use to learn, retain and recall these stories. Learn these, and you’ll always be on top of all the sales knowledge you need.
Once armed with these questions, you can confidently start some valuable conversations with customers.
Putting it together
Just to tie up the ice-cream example, if they mention that it’s their sons birthday party at the park, you just casually drop your story in, “sounds lovely – I was there last weekend and was asked to make an ice-cream cake for a kids party there. Not something I’d done before, but since the kids were hot and needed recharging it went down a treat! Are you all set with a cake or can I stock the van with anything else in particular for your party?”
See how in this example, the ice cream seller starts by asking what they are up to at the weekend, and ends up potentially making multiple sales to a large group of children who are in for a fantastic time!
Now you’re probably not selling ice cream. But the approach works perfectly for complex sales and professional services too, if you take the time to break down parts of your service and find the right trigger questions. Think about it. And contact me if you need help.