Yes, I am a believer in the power of questions and highly recommend you developing a mastery in the art of questioning.
Why are questions so valuable?
Because they engage the customer or prospect to think about their operations – hopefully in a new way. Questions allow for the customer or prospect to self-discover answers and observations you had already uncovered, yet, using your smarts, had not told the decision maker. Instead you used questions to uncover the truths.
Another benefit to using questions rather than telling the story – how can customers argue with themselves? In other words using self-discovery the customer is the one learning and making statements about what is and what should be. If they argue with their own statements, well, maybe this is one customer you need to leave for the competition!
Okay, so far I’ve reinforced the need for questions in your b2b sales model. Yet, the title is about good questions that have lost their value. When a good question loses its impact on the customer, it is really of little value to you and your customer.
Here is a great example…
Mr. Customer, what is keeping you up at nights?
Well, this was a great question to engage a customer relative to learning about their top concerns and issues. The things that were keeping them awake at night. Two things have occurred making this question a negative.
- It has been overused and the customers know it a b2b sales tactic designed to help the b2b sales person gain leverage in the b2b sales process.
- More often than you want, the issues keeping them up at night have nothing to do with what you are selling. (Unless you are selling health care cost reduction or have a fool proof new method for doubling their revenue in the next 12 months.)
Another area that has lost its appeal are the “pain related” questions many b2b sales people ask. These b2b sales people have been pushed to uncover pain (in the form of problems) being experienced by the customer.
I hear you – you are saying the pain questions are about identifying problems the customer is dealing with currently. Okay, I acknowledge you must uncover problems and their consequences, yet, I believe you need to stay away from the pure “pain driven or where does it hurt” type of questions.
Look your goal when meeting with higher level decision makers, it to have a dialogue like two adult business people would. It is a conversation with focus. The focus is upon the customer and how to improve revenues, differentiation in their market place, and how to help them become unique in the world of standardization? This takes a conversational tone with targeted questions to keep on how to help their business.
By the way, back to the original example, if you are selling to the lower level buyer and you ask what is keeping you up at night – you will get a stupid (probably real, yet!) answer like – “my spouse talking,” or “indigestion from supper,” or some equally non value answer. The lower level buyers are in the “commodity zone” and are only interesting in price performance.
Another issue relative to questions: If you are asking detail based questions with a real decision maker, you need to make plans to call on someone else – another company – after doing this mistake. There are three ways to deal with details and their questions.
- Ask other people within the organization rather than a decision maker.
- Do you homework and find the answers on the internet or business journals or databases.
- Ask detail questions of the decision maker – when they are the only ones who know the answer.
The best way to present details to a decision maker is in the form of a validation question.
“Ms Prospect, as I understand your current business, you have five plants across the southern district, is that correct?”
A possible only they know the answer is…
“Mr Prospect, in your industry there has been a wave of consolidations and plant closings, is this trend impacting your current plans regarding your five plants?”
There you have a few things to think about regarding b2b sales and what types of questions you are using currently. Your ability to mastery the art of questioning is a key competency for b2b sales people. So, think on paper and practice your questioning skills using a video camera or at a minimum an audio recorder. Make it effortless and sincere in your delivery – and your b2b sales wins and number of accounts will raise.