There is a question many salespeople like to ask which I feel is working against them rather than for them. The culprit, is the “Explain to me…?”
“Explain to me how you currently enter data from system A to system C and E, while ensuring you suppliers are up to date?”
On the face of it, a good question, probably learn some things, drill down for more nuggets, why is Shanto complaining? Most sellers (including managers and VP, and enablers), say this gives them a chance to show the buyer a better alternative, namely theirs. Maybe, but more often it is a one step forward, two steps back scenario. In most instances this will lead to a point, where no matter how politely, you will need to challenge the prospect about their current world view. After all, it made sense for them, before you called, what’s changed?
The prospect has not been prepped for the discussion you want to have, making it a harder sale. You first have to convince them that what they are doing is not optimal, and then on the fact that you can change that to their advantage. Let’s take the latter as a given, and look at the former.
Start With The Symptoms Instead
The ultimate goal of the “Explain to me …?” is to be able to offer a better viable alternative. But if the prospect believes that what is in place works, it is an uphill slog unless you first have them to acknowledge that their current means is not optimal or as optimized as they believed. Not likely with the Status Quo.
Assuming you do have a better mousetrap, by basing your questions around results, you can much more effectively back into a discussion you want to have.
For example, you are truly able to help them reduce supplier errors and delay costs, and have in fact done it with similar customers, try a different route. One that makes them think. If they are working under the impression that their current 18% margin is good, but you know otherwise, focus on that; start there.
Rather than asking: “Explain to me how you currently enter data from system A to system C and E, while ensuring you suppliers are up to date?”
“We are seeing many companies reduce data loss and errors between systems. By allowing suppliers access to specific data, they have been able to reduce wait times for components, reducing down times by up to 6%, The combined effect has been allowed them to increase margins to 22%, I am curious…?” At this point ask about their current data error rate, margins, anything that delivers a number that contrasts the number you put out. When there is a delta, and by design there should be, you must follow up in a rigorous and methodical fashion.
Don’t start selling as soon as a variance pops up, it’s not a buying signal. When I see an opportunity to sell my Proactive Prospecting Program, the product to enter the conversation.
Me: “How much of your current revenue comes from existing customers vs. new customers?
Prospect: “About 85% from current and 15% from new”
Me: “I am curious, what did your 2019 plan show?
In 15 years, no VP has given same answer number for both its always:
Prospect: “I had planned to be at 80% from existing and 20% of revenues from new logos.”
Without much probing or pulling, two simple answerable questions, relating to his business not product, and we have a major gap/issue on the table. But don’t sell yet.
Me: “Really, so what do you attribute that to?”
I want to know what they think, why they are willing to live with this gap, and why they have given up doing anything about it. I rarely hear things I don’t know, but the goal is to have them articulate where they see their issue as being. Not only do you get a wealth of insight, but it always sounds better coming from their mouth than a sales person’s. Don’t interrupt, take notes.
When they are done, you’re still not ready to pitch, some more learning to be done.
Me: “and if you were able to change that to your stated plan, what would that mean to you and the company?” You have to give them a chance to emotionally reconnect with their goals as they have learned to rationalize things in lieu of results.
Don’t stop now, keep your pitch in your pocket, people’s propensity is to do nothing. It will only be a few minutes till they suppress their curiosity and revert back to where they were before you showed up. It is imperative that you hit that by asking how long the current situation is sustainable. If you do not plant this seed, the status quo will prevail. They need to think about the risk of continuing to miss.
At this point, the “Explain to me…?” question is great, because you prepared the prospect to answer with the new possibilities in mind. How they do things will never lead to a quality why discussion. This allows the buyer think about the “How” after having shared why things are the way they are, leading them to actively participate in building the case for change.
Don’t have them explain anything to you, help them explain it to themselves.