Like many of us I have seen a wide range of sales training. Having played in just about every conceivable position in the deal lifecycle, and been lucky to have worked with great sales people for most of my career, I know my limitations so all this training was always really welcome. However, training is only useful if you know why you’re doing something.
Let me explain…
One of the last programs I went through was in response to our organisation’s lack of knowledge about the customers’ real business issues. We weren’t winning our fair share of deals because we hadn’t invested the time to get to know our customers’ real needs. We didn’t know what their business priorities were or their personal agendas. We were just waiting to hear a trigger word that gave us the opportunity to pitch (without pause or interruption) what we were selling. To fix it our organisation decided to invest in developing everyone’s “enquiry” skills. The training was a great success – except we now had hundreds of energised sales people subjecting their customers to a barrage of questions. The pendulum had swung from pitching to interrogation.
I’m not arguing that enquiry isn’t important – just the opposite - but you must earn the right to ask questions. Most importantly you must remember why you’re asking questions in the first place. It’s a means to an end and that end is to deliver value to your customer – to tailor what you’re telling them so it’s relevant to their situation, their challenges, their goals. No-one wants to be on the receiving end of being “onion peeled”. The person opposite you wants to have an interesting session. Their time is valuable, hard to access, and if they give some to you, they want to learn something useful and know there is value to them (or their organisation) in answering your questions. It’s essential to remember this if you want to get to speak with them again. You need to orchestrate a two-way conversation, not run a one-way inquisition.
Done well, enquiry is a powerful tool that helps your develop intimate and mutually beneficial relationships with your customer. You’ll become someone they’ll happily make time to talk to. But – and it’s a big “but” - it takes time, effort and practice to make your enquiries insightful. You need to show a genuine interest in the answers and your conversations need to be “high gain” for whoever you are talking to.
Use this simple exercise to improve your skills – imagine you could only ask just 1 question, what would it be?
With practice that single question framed with sufficient, give to get insight, will be so good it sets a conversation going that keeps going. If you do it right, the ensuing dialogue will give you what you need to know or show you a way of finding it out. It’ll certainly give you far more than working through your discovery questionnaire ever will.