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Sales Eye - Are you asking the right questions? (Oct 18th, 2004)



Are you asking the right questions?

18th October 2004


We had an interesting lunch the other day with a sales executive from Coca Cola Poland. We were talking about various aspects of sales when he shared an interesting example with us.


"We recently won a big new account away from our beloved competition," our friend proudly declared.


"How did you do it?" we asked.


"By listening carefully, and asking smart questions," was the reply. "As a result of really listening to the clients needs, we were able to truly understand what he wanted, and therefore able to put together a proposal that knocked his socks off."


He went on to explain that in this situation, winning the business had nothing to do with price, but was all about speed of delivery and flexibility of service.


"The competition thought that it was all about price-probably because they never asked. We started talking and it turned out that, while price was important, it wasn't the most important thing this client wanted. We simply gave him what he wanted, and the business was ours."


Now, here's a guy who has risen up in one of the world's truly great sales organizations, and he is convinced his success was a result of asking good questions and listening carefully.


Not selling on price.

Not about the strength of the brand.

Not about quality.

Not even about relationships.

But about listening. And asking smart questions.

Tak. Tak. Tak.


Anyone who's read a sales book or attended sales training before has heard this again and again. Yet somehow, most sales reps miss the point.


What we hear from most reps is: "Tak, tak, tak. Wiem, wiem, wiem." Everybody knows everything. Chances are if you are reading this, your thinking: "I already know this-why are these guys wasting their column on such a basic topic?"


Because, in our minds, there's nothing more important in the selling process than this.


We recently held a sales training session at LYNKA, near Gdansk. After an hour of theory and drills about asking smart, open-ended questions, we organized a role-play situation for the reps, to see if they truly understood.


You are a travel agent. Your client has just come to your office and is asking for help in finding a vacation. The actor playing the role of the client has been instructed to behave as follows: If the travel agent asks smart open-ended questions, he is to fully engage and openly give information about his needs. But if the agent just starts pushing product or hard selling, he is to close up and just play dumb.


The results were fascinating. Despite the theory, and specific instructions to ask open-ended questions, most of the participants fell way short.


No one asked:

How do you like to spend your free time?

Do you prefer a vacation alone, or with family and children?

Describe for me your favorite vacation you've ever had, and why you loved it so much.

Is there a part of the world you like in particular, and why?

And not a single person asked: "What is your budget for the vacation?"


This was an experienced group of sales reps, with an average selling experience of over seven years. And yet almost all of them made the same basic mistake. They were offering solutions before they understood the needs of the client.


Ask yourself this-am I really listening to my clients and asking them intelligent, open-ended, problem-identifying questions, or am I just trying to sell them whatever it is that's on my mind?


Next time you go to a sales meeting with a client, take notes of the questions you asked. Make a game of it-promise yourself you will ask 15 open-ended questions during the course of the meeting. Write them down, and afterwards do a self-assessment.


What did I learn?

What did I fail to ask that I should have?

Did I really do a good needs-assessment through my questions?

Who did most of the talking, the client or me?


Then give yourself a grade. And next time, work on improving it. Whether your company invests in sales training or not, you need to keep getting better.


Next week, we will take question-asking one step further, and tell you about the SPIN technique of selling.


Keep those cards and letters coming! Let us know how you like our articles, and whether you want us to cover a specific topic. You can write us at salesbrothers@lynka.com.pl.



From Warsaw Business Journal by John Lynch, Matt Lynch -"The Sales Brothers"