No matter the cost, a CRM is only as useful as the information entered into it. Inaccurate or incomplete information can result in missed opportunities and miscommunication. The same is true for the questions sellers ask buyers. Simple questions net simple answers. This can not only be a time waster, but it presents the salesperson as unprepared or incompetent, killing any chance of a successful partnership. Of course, good sellers know the difference between closed and open-ended questions, such as those that only require yes-or-no answers and those designed to illicit more information. They should also know when to employ each. Even more, sellers should consider the strategic questions to ask based on the type of conversation they’re having. Within each discussion, here are some questions to uncover a buyer’s most urgent needs:
First, you must understand the challenges facing your prospect. Start with their process. What drives their business? What products are most profitable? How would your product or service streamline and improve their process? This provides the environment into which any solution must fit. From here, ask about the specific pain points they experience. Often, there is not one single thing that presents a problem. Instead, there may be many interconnected pieces that contribute to the problem. Next, how do these compare to the solution you can offer? The answers to these questions are clues to the root cause that may be hidden under the surface.
Often, a seller’s contact is only one voice of many when it comes to the decision-making process, especially for complex sales transactions. Therefore, sellers must learn all they can about stakeholders, influencers, and the decision makers. The more you learn about the players, their connections, and their alliances, the more likely you are to establish a long-term business relationship. In addition to finding out who the decision makers are, you should also understand what the organization’s decision-making process looks like. For example, you may end up dealing with department heads with contrasting priorities. In this case, you want to be certain who the ultimate decision maker will be, whether their procurement department will get involved in the buying process, and what steps are expected from you to move the process along. Also, sellers should ask about the timeline for any decision, anticipating how circumstances are likely to change the longer the process goes.
Needs and Motivations
One of the most important conversations should addresses the prospect’s needs and motivations, which is closely related to our earlier point about challenges. What changes will an improved solution mean for their department and organization? Cost savings? Time-savings? Streamlined production? On the flipside, once you understand the difference your solution would make, remind your prospect about the cost of inactivity. Ask what the consequences will be if they retain the status quo. People are often more motivated to act when they consider what they stand to lose over what they can gain. Therefore, it’s best to present yourself as their partner, someone with an equal investment in getting it right.
The best sellers should remember that an investment in a new solution is often tied to value and the success that solution drives. This can apply to an organization, but it also reflects on the buyer. Therefore, always lead with empathy. Find out what your prospect spends for their current solution and get a sense if your proposed solution (and cost) will work within their allotted budget. Further, you should also make sure your solution is something they can realistically implement and leverage at its fullest potential. For example, a small, family-owned plumbing business might not benefit from the same complex accounting software that would benefit a Fortune 1000 organization. Remember, the worth of any solution must be tied to value. Embedded in every budgetary question is ROI: what the buyer gets for the money.
With all the tools sellers have in their arsenal, from smartphones to CRMs to videoconferencing, perhaps the most important is their ability to ask the right questions. These will elicit the most revealing answers. In addition to understanding challenges, discovering decision makers, uncovering needs, and addressing budgets, the right questions help sellers form meaningful connections with buyers. The types of questions one asks show the seller is a pro, someone with the knowledge and experience to get things done. They also show buyers you are on their side. More than anything, the right questions show buyers you are a partner is their success and that you succeed when they succeed. This forms the basis for much more than a one-time sale.