Great salespeople listen.
The concept sounds simple, but at the same time, almost counterintuitive.
Don’t salespeople love to talk? Don’t they deliver pitches all day long? Don’t they have to drive the conversation to educate potential buyers about their product?
Listening and delivering a sales pitch are not mutually exclusive, but rather inextricably linked. This is because great salespeople don’t sell products, they sell solutions. In order to develop solutions, they need to listen to their customers to understand their challenges, preferences, and the parameters in which they operate.
Research published on Sales Hacker found
that top performing B2B salespeople only talk 43% of the time when meeting with customers. This is no accident, and the only way to make it happen is by asking the right questions.
Here are 10 great questions to ask to get your customers talking and to help you uncover the information you need to drive a sale forward.
The following questions are in the context of selling SaaS subscriptions in a B2B environment, but the general concepts can be applied to any solution sale. The questions have been generalized and therefore should be adapted to your selling situation.
Developing Use Cases
People buy things for a reason. Understanding their motivation allows you to customize your approach to create a compelling case for why your product is the best option to address their needs.
Find out who needs your product and why.
1. What Problem Are You Trying To Solve?
This is use case development 101. If you understand the challenges that your customer faces, then you can develop a solution to specifically address those challenges.
The idea is to have the buyer paint you a picture of their current state of affairs, highlighting the challenges they have identified. Then encourage them to visualise what their ideal state would look like.
By doing so, the buyer highlights all the boxes you need to tick when building your proposal. The goal is to position your solution as the pathway from the customers current state to their ideal state by addressing the challenges that they self-identified.
Top performing sales reps take this a step further and use their domain expertise to help define an ideal state that the buyer may not have considered, but can be attained with the implementation of their product. This helps cement their status as a trusted advisor and can exponentially increase the customer lifetime value.
2. Who Are The Users?
It is important to know who will actually be using your product, especially if your product can provide value across a wide range of use cases.
If you're selling video collaboration software, the value of your product will be very different for a salesperson versus an HR specialist versus a marketing manager. In order to maximize the value of the deal, you need to get buy-in from all possible users and therefore you need to understand all of the possible use cases.
This information will allow you to hone your positioning to the user group your buyer has identified and can help you target the potential users your buyer hasn’t considered.
3. Have You Spoken With Any of My Competitors?
Pretty straightforward, but a great question nonetheless. There are a few key pieces of information you can identify with this question, namely, if you are competing to win the business.
Chances are you have a pretty strong idea of who your direct competitors are and how you stack up, but there is still a great deal of insight you can uncover in talking through your competitors solutions.
You want to understand what the buyer likes about your competitor's product and what they don’t. You also want to probe to identify why the buyer might consider your product over your competitors (or vice versa). This information can be invaluable when building pricing proposals and in determining how to position your solution.
Basic But Important
These questions may seem a bit obvious, but they yield vital information to qualify an opportunity and understand the potential of the deal.
Try to answer these questions as early as possible in the sales cycle, but keep in mind that budgets and timelines can change over time.
4. What Is Your Budget?
The customer’s budget is valuable information in any sale. Not only can it help you tailor your proposal to meet the buyer’s requirements, but it can be a strong indicator of how the buyer is thinking about the purchase of your (or your competitor’s) product.
According to SiriusDecisions, 70% of the buyer's journey is complete before they engage with a sales rep, which means that in all likelihood the buyer has some indication of cost.
Compare the buyer’s budget to your average deal size (for the buyer’s persona). If there is a major difference, either high or low, find out why. If the budget is low, perhaps the buyer only wants to deploy your product for a subset of users or already has a partial solution in place. If the budget is high, maybe they are looking for a more comprehensive solution than you can offer or perhaps it is your lucky day and you just uncovered a big opportunity.
Either way, the budget is a key piece of information to qualify the sale quickly and adjust your approach accordingly. Remember, it's ok to not pursue a sale if it isn’t worth your time.
5. What Is Your Timeline?
The buyer’s timeline is another key piece of information. The timeline helps you to determine how to prioritize an opportunity.
If the customer needs your product asap, you can prioritize your time and resources to get a deal done. If the customer is planning for a deployment late next year, then there is obviously less urgency and you can adjust your approach accordingly.
The timeline is key for forecasting when your deal will close and crucial in managing your pipeline.
Understand The Decision
Understanding how a customer makes decisions can be the difference between winning and losing a deal. In order to successfully position your product, you need to know how it will be evaluated.
These questions can help with your tactical approach to closing a deal.
6. What Is The Decision Making Process?
The decision making process can vary widely from one customer to the next. As a sales rep, you need to understand how your buyer manages this process and what they need from you in order to make a purchase decision.
Will the buyer issue a formal Request for Proposal? Do they require a trial or pilot program? Do you need to become an approved vendor?
If you understand the buyer’s decision making process you can plan and prepare accordingly. It is vital that you know what you need to get done to close a deal and that you are able to deliver everything the customer needs in a timely manner.
7. Who Are The Decision Makers?
According to the Harvard Business Review, as of 2017, the average number of people involved in B2B solutions purchases is 6.8.
These decision makers almost certainly aren’t all end users. Each individual may be approaching the decision from a very different perspective and therefore may have different objectives.
You need to know who you need to meet and who you need to impress. Understanding who these individuals are will help you strategize and be prepared for a wide range of questions and objections.
8. What Does A Successful Implementation Look Like?
Buyers have KPIs too. They may be directly tied to the purchase and implementation of a product, as in the case of a buyer from a Procurement or Technical team. Or they may be tied to the solution, as in the case of a Sales Leader purchasing a tool to help her team close more deals. Either way, there will be goals and metrics associated with the purchase of a new product.
You need to understand what these metrics are and work with each decision maker to help hit their goal. This information not only helps you better position your solution, but is a great way to build rapport with the people who will ultimately make the purchasing decision.
If you build a clear case around how you can help the buyer hit their KPI and help achieve their business goals, you will be in a great position to win the deal.
Closing The Deal
Deals don’t close themselves. There are countless factors that can upend a deal, even if everything is going great.
You need to continually build momentum throughout the sales cycle until you have a deal signed and your product implemented.
9. How Do We Get This Deal Over The Line?
Deals can stagnate at any stage of the sales cycle - you could be undercut by a competitor just before the buyer is ready to sign a contract or a global pandemic could blindside the global economy - anything can happen. You need to focus on keeping the momentum going and a great way to do that is to check your buyers’ temperature on a regular basis.
If you are far enough along in the sales cycle, your buyer is likely just as invested as you are. It is in both your interest to discuss the status of the deal and work together to overcome any remaining obstacles and determine what needs to be done to close the deal.
This is a great way to be proactive and establish yourself as someone your buyer wants to do business with. It is also a perfect opportunity to sweeten the deal - with more favorable terms or a better price point - to push it over the line.
10. Will You Buy My Product?
Find a way to phrase this question more eloquently, but you get the point. You need to ask for the sale, plain and simple.
For some inexplicable reason, many sales people don’t do this. It's akin to buying an engagement ring, planning a romantic dinner, professing your love to your significant other, and then not popping the question.
It is a clear and direct exchange between you and the buyer to establish whether or not the deal is ready to close. If the buyer says yes, great! If they say no, they you can parlay into a discussion about what needs to happen in order for the buyer to make the decision (see questions #9).
Asking for the sale also exudes professionalism. It projects confidence and simultaneously displays your respect for the buyers decision making process.
You need to earn the right to ask for the sale, but once you do, it is a great way to push the deal across the line.
After The Contract Is Signed
The sales cycle doesn’t end when the contract is signed, it starts over. Top performing salespeople maximize customer lifetime value.
It is vital that you ensure a successful rollout of your service and continue to engage with both the buyers and the user base as a whole. Listen to their feedback, ask good questions, and you will almost certainly uncover new opportunities to grow the business.