As with most young sales people, in the first few months of my career I struggled with what questions to ask of my prospects and in what order to ask them.
On good days, I came across with at least enough confidence to garner a little respect and a minimal amount of participation by my contact. On bad days, I got three orders: Get out, stay out and don't come back.
On a particularly off day, I was evidently bumbling through my sales call so badly that my prospect chuckled and said with a smile, "Have you ever done this before?" I replied, "What? Do you mean make a sales call, or make a fool of myself by fumbling over my words?"
My prospect's laugh continued to minimize the tension and he said, "You're new at this, aren't you?" "Yep. I am. I have good days and bad days. You caught me on the latter." What followed was my own shallow attempt at mitigating my inability to perform on a sales call, but ended up being an invaluable part of my selling process that I use and teach people to employ to this day.
The Benefits of Flipping the Script
I asked the prospect, "So, have YOU ever done this before?"
"Well, I've never been in sales so no, I've never blown a sales call, but I have been involved as a customer buying what you're selling, and I'm pretty darn good at it." And that began a fascinating conversation that gave me incredible insight into how this buyer would make his upcoming decision.
Here's the deal: Its not that someone's previous buying decisions will allow you to predict their future decisions, but the two are inextricably connected. When someone makes a decision to buy something, they end up happy with their decision, unhappy with their decision, or completely ambivalent.
If they are happy with their previous decision, they will likely use the same criteria to evaluate new products and services. If they are unhappy or ambivalent about their previous decision, it is likely their criteria will change in an attempt to make the next decision a better one. How valuable to both a sales person and a buyer!
If you understand the criteria by which the buyer made previous decisions, it gives context to the criteria by which they will judge YOU.
4 Questions You Need the Answers To
It turns out these questions aren't at all smart aleck, just smart.
It's a little more than "Have you ever done this before?" but if you have the answers to these questions, you'll have an excellent foundation on which to build all the buyer's criteria.
Take a look at the things you and the buyer will know by asking the following four questions:
1. "Have you been involved in the evaluation of these types of products and services?"
If the answer to this question is 'yes', questions two through five apply. What happens if the answer is 'no'? Well, then you have an incredible opportunity to become more of a trusted advisor by helping the buyer understand how to make the best decision possible.
2. "When, who and what did you evaluate?"
Guess what? There is the possibility they evaluated your company's products and services before and decided NOT to buy them. Would you want to know that? And remember, they didn't have to be working at their current place of employment when they were engaged in previous decisions.
This can be critical when working with a new decision maker for one of your current clients. You may feel you have a lock on a sale because of your relationship with your customer, but your new contact's previous decisions may not support that position.
3. "What was the outcome and why?"
What if previous decisions were made primarily on lowest price? Would you want to know that? Of course! If you are the lowest price provider, this may bode well for you. Otherwise, you know additional, favorable criteria would need to be developed for you to win.
If they bought from one of your competitors because they felt they had superior service, would you want to know that? Of course. Would you want to know if they still felt their service was superior? You may also find out that they found their service to be less than adequate. Once again, this is invaluable information.
4. "Will you use the same criteria for your next decision?"
This is where you can begin to determine whether or not the buyer(s) were ultimately satisfied with their previous decision. As an example, they may have found buying on lowest price wasn't wise, or that they needed to add more service criteria to their decision. Or you may find their criteria have changed because of changing business or economic conditions.
In any case, these questions and their answers provide a critical foundation for discussing ALL the criteria for their upcoming decision. And no matter what, if you use this line of questioning, you will definitely look like YOU'VE done this before!
Bob Nicols has 34 years of experience in sales, sales management, executive management and sales force development. He founded Burton Training Group, now AXIOM Sales Force Development, in 1990 after being a top and highly recognized performer in sales, sales management and executive positions within the technology sector. He has managed and mentored thousands of sales people, sales managers and senior managers and been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For more than 21 years he has developed and delivered sales programs that have become the standard for many Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, BellSouth, Disney Enterprises, Alltel, Verizon and ESPN. AXIOM programs have been implemented in over 30 countries including Japan, the UK, Germany, Dubai, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, China, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Slovakia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. Bob's highly energetic and insightful lectures and workshops have resulted in invitations to be a featured presenter at dozens of national and international sales meetings and conferences. He is a trusted advisor to the presidents and senior managers of multiple organizations, both large and small and has been a board member of a national technology company. Bob is the developer of AXIOM's “Selling Sciences ProgramTM” and co-author of the “Selling Sciences” CD series.