A colleague recently told me that ‘sales questions are hot now.’ But I don’t know what that means:
- what is a ‘sales question’?
- what makes them ‘hotter now’ than before?
- what is their intent?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a guess that a ‘hot sales question’ is defined as the ‘right’ question to ask to…. um, maybe, elicit the ‘right’ data to see if it’s a qualified lead? Or something to do with closing a sale? Or gathering the ‘right’ data to close the deal by saying the right thing? No idea.
Since my Buying Facilitation Method® uses a new type of question I developed (Facilitative Question) as a guide, like a GPS system, to lead buyers through the decisions they must address before they buy, I probably have a different criteria around what questions should do. My questions don’t elicit data, but can initiate decisions, invoke new behaviors and choices, and influence thinking and activity. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
WHAT IS A QUESTION?
A typical question pulls data from a decision already made (see my book Dirty Little Secrets. I have a large section devoted to questions). A responder (i.e. buyer) gives information to a person (i.e. seller) who wants to gather data.
The very nature of a normal question is biased, posed to fulfill someone’s curiosity; the responder offers the best guess from a data-bank of comfortable responses, hoping to satisfy the questioner. Lots of bias everywhere.
In sales, questions have been used to elicit information to better sell, to:
- understand/assess need;
- get an ‘admission’ of need;
- gather data about inner processes so risk can be assessed.
Bias, bias, bias, and the responder/buyer learns nothing; the seller gets biased data, potentially missing important data that was omitted from the questioner’s assumptions.
Here’s an example of how using conventional questions brought in the possibility but missed the deal. When a client at KPMG called a very large corporation to assess need, to sell an 8 figure consulting deal, they got an RFP. They were ecstatic: this company had always used another XYZ Consulting. KPMG put a whole bunch of senior managers onto the project to create a million dollar proposal. Finally my client had a shot at getting the business.
When I asked “Why aren’t they going to use XYZ anymore?” they were stumped. They called the prospect and posed the same question to them. They were told:
“We are going to use them. We just needed a second bid.”
In sales, we don’t realize we pose our questions in a very narrow landscape: we are so focused on getting the data WE think we need that we ignore very important stuff that could actually close the sale.
FACILITATIVE QUESTIONS TEACH HOW TO DECIDE, NOT GATHER DATA
I developed Facilitative Questions as a way to lead change, not gather data. Here is a very simple example:
- Why do you wear your hair like that? is a simple question that gathers data.
- How would you know when it was time to reconsider your hairstyle? is Facilitative Question that actually teaches the listener how to pull decision making criteria from disparate memory storage units in the brain so the listener can pull their highly valued criteria together to potentially make a new decision. In other words, I help people decide to buy.
So Facilitative Questions support the buying decision. Regular questions give the seller biased data that most probably leaves out lots of important information and may not be the issues the buyer is considering when they make a purchase.
Both types of questions are necessary, but at different times in the buying decision process. Conventional questions assess need and place solution, help sellers figure out how to place their pitch, or understand the competition. They help us understand all aspects of a buyer’s need and make sure they understand our solution.
By using Facilitative Questions first, we can become part of the private, inside track that goes on in the buyer’s decision journey. When working with a prospect with a large buying decision team recently, I sent them sets of Facilitative Questions every time I knew they had a meeting, and became part of the Buying Decision Team. These questions were all based on ensuring they managed their change – nothing to do with gathering data or placing solution. Examples of questions I used:
- How will you and the whole decision team know when it’s time to bring in a new solution when you have so much going on already? What would you need to hear, see, experience?
- At what point will you know that you have buy-in from the group you want trained? How can you assess that? How will you recognize problems? And how will you and the decision team assign responsibility to manage any fallout before, during, or after the training?
Until or unless buyers figure this stuff out, they can’t buy anyway. And you know what? It’s so easy to create these questions for the telesales team or for inside sales folks, to use to qualify.
- Hear Sharon-Drew use Facilitative Questions in her live calls on MP3 or CD.
- Want to learn to use Facilitative Questions to help buyers decide? Check out my Learning Accelerators
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