This question is from a webinar we recently held on Selling in Turbulent Times. For the entire presention, click here.
By Jeffrey Baker, Senior Methodology Consultant
I offer these answers for those selling to business customers as opposed to consumers. First, imagine your prospect has told you that only mission-critical expenditures will be approved and that she wants to understand how your product/service is critical to the company’s ongoing business. This will help you keep a narrow focus for your questions.
Next, prepare a questioning strategy to gain an understanding from your prospect of the mission-critical elements of her business. Ask general questions that are specific to the prospect’s business. Then DO YOUR HOMEWORK to answer as many of these questions as you can (even partially), based on other sources of information, prior to your sales call. This approach enables you to use your sales-call time to confirm your answers with your prospect, demonstrate your preparation for the call and your understanding of the prospect’s situation, earn the right to ask additional questions, and advance the sales process more quickly.
- How is the recession affecting your business, and what key actions/initiatives is your company taking in response to the recession’s effects? Look for positive as well as adverse effects.
- What important metrics do senior leaders monitor now?
- What is your company doing differently now to stay close to your existing customers? What is it doing to find and win new customers?
- What are you customers’ greatest needs and concerns now? What feedback are you getting from your customers now?
- How has your company’s competitive position changed (or how is it changing) as a result of the recession? In what ways is it more competitive? Less competitive?
- How has your company (or how have you) changed the way products and services are produced and delivered in response to the recession?
- Is your company doing more or less innovation now? Why?
- Where is your company experiencing its greatest challenges now? (Possible answers: Obtaining new orders, converting orders to revenue, collecting receivables, increasing cash and/or cash flow and credit, reducing inventory, increasing stock turns, maintaining or reducing delivery time, utilization rates, employee productivity, getting leaders to take bold action, expanding capacity, quickly acquiring and integrating other businesses, and so on). (Note: Every suppliers’ products and services connect in some way to one or more of these challenges.)
Here are some more general, high-impact questions:
- What are the mission-critical parts of your business?
- What predictive indicators do you watch to monitor the health of your business?
- Where are the greatest risks to your business now?
- What keeps you awake at night?
- If you could change one thing about your business to increase your competitive advantage, what would it be?
- What one thing do most of your customers want from you that you have not been able to provide?
- Who do you most rely on for advice and guidance in today’s uncertain times?
- If you could magically cause all of your employees to do one thing differently, what would it be?
Relevant titles from Forum’s sales and sales leadership learning library can be quickly adapted to the specific needs of a company’s sales force:
- Developing a Questioning Strategy for a Sales Call
- Using High-Gain Questions
- Exploring Customer Needs, Payoffs, and Consequences
- Talking Business Results with Customers
- Talking Business Strategy with Customers