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Questions lead to answers.

My hiatus from Sales Practice is/was not personal, I am busy building a renewable energy and energy efficiency business, which is consuming all my energy (pun intended). And, in so doing, I am front line again – and, man, does it feel great!

By front line I mean I am out conducting calls training sales people in a new industry, one are recruited sales people certainly have interest in but have never experienced. And, as always, the approach in sales is far more important than product knowledge, which is my challenge, the same one great sales mentors have had for ions.

To emphasize this all too obvious point let me tell you two stories about yesterday;

I visited a pet food manufacturer. Unfortunately, they were one of the companies that got sold melamine laden meat form china. This situation ended up costing them a kewl $400 million in lawsuits, lost business and other costs. Needles to say, unlike most other food companies, they are way down.

It is not the economy, as our pets still need to eat too. But they situation caused by unscrupulous behavior in China caught them up along with a lot of other companies in the same industry.

Needles to say, you might agree that my PLAN A failed in this case. That is the approach of calling businesses that are not affected by the economy (like FOOD) thinking this specific prospect would not be reluctant to buy due to a downturn.

Within moments I found out how much they “are off” of last year’s sales. The side tracked conversation about the legal issues was easily handled. Then I asked what ROI might expect to receive approval if any? Answer; “One year!”

I restated the question. “You mean that if you can show a profit in a year or less you would find it highly likely that your recommendation would get approval from ‘the corner office’?” Answer – strongly affirmative.

Next I found out that one style of products I knew had a shorter ROI was already in place. Dead end. Did I walk away empty handed? Please!

Our conversation was then switched around to what area of energy consumption they would like to improve upon – I began probing for PAIN. Things went this way and that for a few moments, then I introduced a benefit, dealt with a competitor’s product, finally got confirmation of interest in that benefit (“end result”) knowing all the while that the ROI is more like 5 years than one.

Carrying on, I switched the topic to a renewable energy source. Knowing that PAIN is not felt in buying hydro really, unless it is $100,000 a month (and I have client’s with this size of utility bill and larger), and that the ROI from a mini power generation plant on the roof of a building is more like 7 years … was I able to get an accepted benefit?

Let me let the client’s words answer my own question (and perhaps your minor wonderment); “This is EXACTLY what we are looking for!”

How did I get from uncovering the economic disaster within their business to the words that when stated the way they were ended up being a very clear buying signal?

This thread is about what question to ask and why. There are two types, the kind that confirms information, limiting an answer, like to YES or NO, usually referred to as a CLOSED QUESTION or in my parlance; a CLOSED PROBE … and one that tens to cause a prospect to speak freely, an OPEN PROBE, sometimes referred to as an OPEN ENDED QUESTION. When used in the right way at the right time you will find out everything you need to know to help a buyer acquire what is in their best interest.

When the open probe revealed that they could get a one year payback rubber stamped if it made sense, I restated the question, limiting the response, confirming that an instant profit was desirable. Then I supported that NEED with the benefit that I had financing, that I could generate an instant profit – his eyes popped out of his head (figuratively, really they momentarily got wider.)!

Look, selling is easy when you are a master.

How do you get there? Practice. You also need to be part entrepreneur, you need to understand most of the issues in any business, no matter the size or industry and what you don’t know you need to be able to ask and understand very quickly.

Sure you do need to know about your product but what the sales industry calls PRODUCT KNOWLEDGE was not needed for me to get a request for a proposal for three separate renewable energy sources yesterday without mentioning anything about my products - except the benefits.

In fact, the only explanations I made were about a competitor and a type of product that he was aware of that is likely not a good idea (we can provide it but because of the financial situation – the investment is much higher, even though the return is too, the ROI is NOT SHORTER … so, faced with the dilemma I made the decision to keep it simple and lessen the investment).

Look, I do not expect all three recommendations to go ahead. But if they did we are talking about several hundred thousand dollars, maybe a half a million. This is a big account relatively speaking but was/is the selling process different? No.

If anything, that particular sales call was one that was a little more difficult not due to the size of the company or the size of the possible contract(s) but because of the lawsuits and other issues caused by meat that was toxic – this due its taint fooling protein tests and making various buyers think they were acquiring goods that were of high quality (believe it or not, they had never tested for that type of toxin, as such a test was never required)!

Preparation is about understanding how to change direction (never mind how to uncover tainted meat from China!).

Yesterday I had another sales call with a company that got locked into a contract on both electricity and Natural Gas. The rate was excellent, it was in place only if they guaranteed to acquire a set amount of both. In this down turn they are 30% off … using far less energy and they are actually paying for both electricity and Natural Gas they can’t use!

Worse, if I saved them wasted energy, making them more efficient, they would still pay the same, meaning the benefactor would be the company that locked them into a confusing and unfair contract. There was no where to go, so what did I do? Simple, I changed track.

“By the way, how about your homes - did you know that you can get $10,000 from the Government to do an energy retrofit?”

Before I left all four partners agreed to do an energy audit, to prove their houses could be improved. In follow up I will send a sales rep to sell them new windows or insulation or geothermal or all three. The point being I took a no win scenario and ended up walking away with more than I had hoped from a first meeting (as four home retrofits are potentially more profitable than one business!).

“Did you know that you can get $10,000 from the Government to do an energy retrofit?”

The answer was “NO!”

This relatively crude question - though stated well was not particularly sophisticated - opened the door to sizable business. And I don’t expect to get all four but I bet I will get two. It was just a “by the way” question, used in a form that is usually called a closed probe.

Selling isn’t telling. We want the prospect to tell us in their words what they are interested in, what they will go for … BEFORE we show them how we have that/how we can make that happen. It has been said many times in many ways, in sales training events the world over, even in this forum.

It is not that “that doesn’t work any more” but rather;

“What sales trainers are saying ‘doesn’t work any more’ was always ineffective, in point of fact - it never did!”

Best of luck. - by Gold Calling
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