As a Sales Leader I get to meet with many sales peers and to interview many sales people seeking a new role as well as the pleasure to sit as a judge on numerous sales awards. I see a constant flow of sales people who believe they are baked, have stopped investing in honing their skills and who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Cynical I may be, but I am frustrated by the prevailing mantra of assumed greatness, a self-belief that the basics were nailed years ago. So, what is missing?
Ask a sales person what skills they wish training on and invariably I get a reply of ‘Negotiating Skills’, ‘Enterprise Selling’, sometimes ‘Social Selling’; all valid skills to have, however what frustrates me is that they assume they have mastered the basics and yet do not demonstrate as such in their actions.
For me the biggest sales skill to learn out of the gate and that needs constant practise and tuning is that of Questioning. I interview a breadth of sales people, many with years of experience to their name who demonstrate poor to average questioning skills. Now I count questioning skills to include the pre-research that leads to smart prepared questions into this mix. Good questioning needs pre and after thought, preparation, note taking and active listening skills for not only what is said, but also for its context and tonality.
For this reason, I encourage that good questioning needs to be done verbally, on the phone or in person in a ‘true’ conversation. Oft I hear a Salesperson report they had a customer conversation, which when questioned turns out to be an email exchange. This is better than no communication for sure but is not a 2-way conversation; each reply is pre-thought and has the ability to be reconsidered and edited, very different to a live flowing conversation. Numerous psychological reports have shown that a far lower % of communication interpretation is from the words when compared to the intonation and expression, explaining why so many digital communication breakdowns occur.
For the Salesperson, questioning skills were the 1st thing they learnt and the 1st thing they moved past! Too quickly they considered questioning as done and wanted to progress to the next thing. Questioning needs to align to certain edicts and to be practised until habitual as a behaviour. Most sales people when asked quote a methodology such as SPIN, BANT, SCOTSMAN, TAS or one of the many others, this is all fine, but these provide a baseline to adhere to, but not the detail required to be applied on a day to day client interaction basis.
So, I hear sales people with pride citing they know these acronyms and are good at questioning and yet when challenged failing to demonstrate (in most cases) having moved past this superficial level of method. Ask the average sales person and yes, they will roll off facts to demonstrate they asked the budget, the timescale, who makes the decision and why there is a need. However, delve below this on any of these pillars and quickly find that this is the only level of detail questioned as this is what training and methods cite.
For me a strong salesperson will not only know the budget, but why its that budget, who set the budget, the process for changing the budget, the outcome if the solution preferred doesn’t meet budget. They will know the signoff process for this level, if the project can be split to product and services to meet two budget allocations, etc and so on. The unpeeling of the onion, asking question upon answer, upon question is the skill of good questioning and qualification. Now this needs to be done in a natural ‘earn the right’ approach and not simply a reeling off a list of 50 questions, wearing down your prospective client in a non-conversational list. This is where the practised skill comes into play!
Questioning is important throughout the sales process. A sales person knowing 20 more things than a competitor about the clients needs and motivations has a greater propensity to be selected and a greater chance to know when to qualify out for the right reasons.
Also post conversation there is nothing wrong in reviewing your notes yourself or with a colleague or manager, to identify questions missed and to go back to the client to request a follow up call. ‘Having spent some time reviewing the notes I took from our call I realised that I have missed a few important questions which will help me serve you better in our offer. May I call you again to quickly clarify these points?’. Demonstrating to your client interest in the call you had, time invested in the answers they gave and professionalism in your approach. You do not have to nail questioning 1st time every time, just practise a method that is respectful, professional and helps you and the client have a more informed engagement.