As salespeople the challenge we face when dealing with our prospects and existing clients alike, is that we are always looking out for better ways to better engage them and then to get them to openly think about what their real wants and needs are. In fact the more we can get them to open up, the more likely they are to share vital information with us.
I’ve been selling for more than 50 years now and over the past 20 years or more, our prospects are becoming more savvy about the selling process and in many cases are on guard unless they feel that they can get some free advice from us that in turn may give them a market advantage they can use, or another way they can apply what they already have a better way.
Until about a decade or so ago I also believed that many of the conversations I had with new prospects were becoming shorter and kept wondering why. In fact, I had discussed that exact observation with Phil Marco, a man a little older than me that had been selling for around the same time as I had, and he too became fascinated by what I told him. In fact, for the next few weeks while we were working away from home in Canberra (Australia’s Capital City) we would periodically compare notes and were not able to pin-point why.
Then as fate would have it, one of Phil’s appointments cancelled and he called me on the mobile and wanted a cup of coffee. I had only arrived at my call, asked the prospect if he would mind if one of my colleges joined us, and as he was OK with that, Phil came around about ten minutes later, and just sat there and observed, so that he wouldn’t interrupt what I was doing. It was a good call, I made quite a sizeable sale (with a little help from Phil) and we both left and moved to our next appointed calls.
Around a day or so passed and it was while we were sharing a team dinner with the rest of the crew in Canberra that Phil told me he thought he knew why the conversations were becoming shorter with my new prospect, and that he had tried something new and it seemed to work. Would I meet up with him after dinner to discuss what he had observed and to see if I could shed some further light on his conclusions.
I honestly couldn’t wait after we arrived back at the apartment building we were staying in. Then we sat down over a coffee, what Phil had said made a lot of sense, and we both became excited as we role-played what we were experimenting with.
Throughout the role-plays it became appeared that the longer the sellers question, the shorter the prospects answer – and that seemed to happen to both of us. It also appeared that the shorter the sellers question, the longer the prospects answer – that too happened to both of us.
Bit by bit the questions shortened but standard sales questions like:
- “Can you tell me why you feel that way?”
- “What happened when you said that?”
- “Why didn’t you buy the last time you saw it?”
- “If I could do that, would you go ahead?”
- Then it was reduced to:
- “How was that?”
- “What do you mean?”
- “Can you tell me why?
- “when did that happen?”
And then the “penny dropped” and we began to experiment with single words like “Why?” and “When?” And no matter what prior key selling points were brought up in our presentations, each of us had no other option to explain ourselves – sometimes the replies were economical, at other times the reply was long winded whenever we asked, why two or three times, the answers just kept coming – but it seemed to become too hard to work when why was asked the fourth and fifth time.
Next we began to trial these questioning techniques on the road, and within days we shared them amongst the rest of the crew that was working with us. And their feed-back was good too – and only after they had been working with the idea for a few days.
In fact, Daniel (Phil’s son) shared with both of us that previously he was getting frustrated because the majority of replies to his questions (which he admitted were somewhat long-winded) quite often the answer was, “I’m not sure,” “I don’t know,” or other non-committal replies.
Other times he felt he had good rapport, but when it came to ask them to buy, many of them were really “cold” to the idea. But as he go the hang of asking short question, his results began to get better and he was selling more.
Most of us learn from our experiences, and sometimes what comes out of the “mouths of babes” (Daniel was in his early 20’s then), can have an effect on us all, and what Daniel had said was priceless. He equated selling to a piece of string and suggested that this was how the questioning process worked the way he understood it.
Then using this string (about the length of his arm) he physically showed us by holding the string at one end in his left hand and placing his right hand were the question finished. For a long question he held his right hand close to the end of the string, and for a short question he held it far from the end.
Then went on to say, I’ll never forget. Short question tells me they will tell you this much – and held the string accordingly.
With long question they can’s say much more than, “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,“ “Do they?” – while held the string with just a little of it left dangling.
The strange part in all of this is, at we often ask questions of our prospects and believe them to be the right questions, when we are really asking questions that are easy for us to understand.
Whereas, those long winded questions usually contain things that the prospects are unfamiliar with, and to them the questions are to complex, or maybe too hard to understand. Little wonder we get “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure” answers, then at the end they have no other choice but, “I want to think about it.”
My friend Michline Jammal, who is one of the best salespeople in a sales force of around 120 salespeople, continually tells everyone she knows not to do technical sales. In other words, keep your sale simple, and every so often will go off the rails, do a three or four hour presentation (and sometimes longer) and sell. Then she beats herself up because she knows she got too technical and they cancelled because of it. And it wasn’t that they didn’t like or want what she sold them, I’m sure they cancelled because they really didn’t know what they bought.
This Article is by Peter Collins – In a sales career spanning more than 50 years, Peter Collins has focused on helping and bringing out the best in others – whether it involves training or mentoring salespeople, managers, business consulting to SME’s. Since the 1970’s Peter has built a reputation as a Nationally and Internationally Published author, and has 65 books to his credit, but he is mainly known for one book based on the Audio Tape series of the same name, Over 50 Ways of Closing the Sale. In his personal life, Peter has been sought after as an encourager and motivator that has given of his time and talents freely despite his busy schedule. Subsequently, he has assisted churches, pastors, community and charity groups, as well as individuals through his teaching, training, development and on-going mentoring.
Peter can be contacted through his website – profitmakersales.com