Questioning skills - Sales

Don’t Avoid the Hard Questions

It's not really that bad

It’s not really that bad

In a class I ran last week, the participants seemed to be having a harder time than usual asking their customers (actually, their colleagues playing the part of customers in role plays) the hard questions. They would ask one or two questions about the customer’s situation, and then fail to probe when the customer’s answer hinted that things may not be as rosy as they claimed. Words like, “issues, struggles, lack of, etc.” zipped unnoticed over their heads like stealth planes.

Instead, the salespeople would listen intently, maybe jot down a note or two, and then when the customer finished their silent pleas for help, launch into their canned pitch about all their “solutions”.

When I tried to figure out what was going on, one of the students told me that they have been conditioned to accentuate the positive, so it seems like a downer to get the customer talking about the problems in their situations. I replied that if doctors acted that way, no one would ever be cured of anything.

Why do so many sales conversations avoid these areas? I don’t know for sure, but I can speculate. It may be a sense that the customer already knows what he needs, so you sound pushy in bringing it out. It could be a lack of knowledge of the customer’s industry, company, or operations. It might even be impatience to talk about the wonderful slick product you have. But mostly I think it’s the fear of upsetting the customer by bringing out unpleasant topics.

The problem with that, is that status quo is extremely powerful. Customers will never buy except to solve a problem, take advantage of an opportunity, adapt to change or mitigate a risk. And even if those are present in their situation, if they don’t talk about them they may be able to fool themselves that they can put off doing something about them. Meanwhile, the consequences and risks pile up because no one has asked the hard questions.

They can only put off action for so long before eventually the need catches up with them, but by then you probably won’t be there to help. The only person who wins when you steer clear of the hard questions is your competitor.

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