The Inbound Growth Blog

The Inbound Growth Blog covers all topics relating to an integrated marketing strategy. We write about inbound marketing, social media, integrated marketing strategies and the sales process.

Small Business Growth Strategies: Ask The Tough Questions

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Posted by John Beveridge on Feb 20, 2013 3:50:00 PM

“Well I’m here to tell you now, each and every mother’s son, you better learn it fast and you better learn it young because someday never comes”

Someday Never Comes – Creedence Clearwater

Questions BlogHave you ever been so eager to close a sale that you ignore that nagging feeling that you haven’t covered all of your bases? You keep moving forward with your prospect, everything’s going well and then……(cue the sound of crickets.)  The prospect disappears and doesn’t return your calls or emails. This almost always happens because you didn’t ask the right questions at the beginning of your relationship.

My friend Rick Roberge has been selling since the ‘70s. He has successfully sold by prospecting door-to-door, by telephone and is now on the cutting edge of using social media and inbound marketing in his current business training entrepreneurs and sales professionals to sell more effectively. The reason that Rick adapts so well is that he realizes that while technology has changed, the human motivations for buying haven’t.  Rick recently reminded me that people still buy based on the concept first developed by E. Elmo St. Lewis in 1898 – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA). Rick also reminded me that if you’re not asking qualifying questions very early in your sales process, you will likely waste a good deal of time chasing sales that will never happen. To get an idea of Rick's common-sense advice to selling more effectively, I highly recommend you download his eBook, Sales Anecdotes and Their Antidotes.

Sales Anecdotes and Their AntidotesDownload Closing the Loop: The Ultimate Guide to Integrating Inbound Marketing Into Your Sales Process

I operate on the premise that my time is valuable and I don’t want to waste it.  If you feel that your time is just as valuable as that of your prospects, here are some questions you need to ask before deciding to invest more time with your prospect:

  1. What are your prospect's goals? Your prospect will buy from you if they think you can help them reach their goals. Ask questions about their goals until you're able to quantify it numerically.  For example, my goal is to increase revenue by 15% this year.
  2. What is their plan to achieve their goal? Find out what they are doing now to achieve their goals and learn what's working and what isn't. Probe to see if you might be able to "teach" them a new way to achieve their goal that they haven't considered.
  3. What challenges are keeping them from achieving their goals? This question follows on the previous question about their plan. This will help you learn if your solution can help. Caution: you're not ready to present solutions yet!
  4. What is the prospect's timeline to achieve their goals? This is important in helping you understand the urgency with which the prospect views this particular goal. If you find out that the prospect doesn't need to hit this goal for three years, it's likely that they won't view your solution with any urgency.
  5. Does the prospect have the budget to pay for your solution? I really want a Ferrari Enzo, but I don't have the $1 million I would need to buy it at auction. I'm not a good prospect for the auctioneer. Once you've established trust with your prospect, ask questions like, "Do you have budget to achieve this goal?" If they don't, ask if they can move budget around to fund a solution that will help them achieve the goal.
  6. Does the prospect have the authority to purchase your solution? In Miller-Heiman's Strategic Selling, they define an economic buyer as someone who can say yes when everybody else says no and someone who can say no when everybody else says yes. Depending on the complexity of your sales situation, there may be several influences on the buying decision. If your prospect doesn't have buying authority, try to engage them as a coach who will advocate for your solution internally. If you aren't talking to the economic buyer, you lack control over the sales process. Take my word for it, I've figured this out the hard way! You can't always get in front of the economic buyer, so use your coach to try and help you find out what you need to do to win.
Many business owners and entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable asking these questions. Here are a few suggestions to help you feel comfortable asking the questions in a way that matches your style:
  • Write down several questions for each of the categories listed above and roleplay them with a colleague. They'll share feedback with you and your practice will make you feel comfortable when you are talking to a prospect.
  • You should be an expert in your field. Keep in mind that you're asking these questions with the end goal of helping your prospect by sharing your expertise.
  • If your prospect won't answer these questions when asked appropriately, you're probably better off moving on to the next one. In my situation, I want to work with customers who I like and trust and who feel the same way about me. If you're not establishing trust during the selling process, you either won't get the sale or you will have post-sale problems due to lack of trust and misunderstanding.
  • Most business owners and managers are busy and need to use their time wisely. Asking these questions will keep you from wasting your time, setting false revenue expectations and developing good business relationships.

The ongoing poor economic situation has made selling more difficult. More scrutiny is being paid to business purchases and many executives are looking for a broad consensus before approving investments. Nonetheless, we're all still challenged with growing our businesses. That's why it's so important to be efficient in our selling processes and to ask the tough questions of our prospects. If you don't, you'll be chasing phantoms.

Topics: Sales Process

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