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Getting Things Started on the Right Foot – Part Three:

Setting the Direction of the Call – Part Three

Now that you’ve had a chance to get to know your client better and to either reinforce positive comments and perceptions or resolve problem situations, it is time to delve deeper into your client’s needs.  Specifically, as you work through this stage of the sales process, you need to find out as much as you can about how your client feels about you, your company, the products and services you provide and your competitors.

This is the stage where you client begins to see you as a business partner and consultant, not as a sales rep looking to pitch products and services – the old churn and burn sales type.  The focus is to be customer-centric, not self-centric.  This enables you to understand the values, concerns and needs of those tasked with making or influencing purchasing decisions at your client site.  You can’t hit the target if you don’t know where to aim.  If you run roughshod all over a client by pitching every product you sell when a client only needs one product, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Unfortunately, a majority of those who sell today are more often than not pulling brain dumps on clients.  They walk in the door, shake a client’s hand and then regurgitate everything they’ve ever seen, read, heard or assumed about their products and services. 

Some clients will actually ask for this approach.  In either case, both the sales rep and the client will lose.  Without appropriate background information, a sales rep cannot know what a client truly needs and a client will not receive the information they need.  No one wins. 

So, even if your customer asks you to, “tell me all about your products and your company,” the best approach is to step back and ask, “Absolutely.  First, would it be okay if I ask you a couple questions?”  We call these questions situational questions.  They are targeted towards understanding a customer’s priorities, company, requirements and competition.  They enable you to gather sufficient information in order to make an appropriate recommendation.  You should keep in mind not to spend too much time on situational questions as clients may become bored.  This is particularly the case with those personality styles that are more apt to want you to “get to the bottom line” and “net it out.”

Using Situational Questions

There are two types of situational questions you can use:

1. Open Situational Questions – to understand a client’s specific situation

2. Closed Situational Questions – to clarify specific problems or concerns

Open situational questions allow you to gather a broad understanding of a customer’s situation, goals and role in the buying process.  Here are some sample questions to use when questioning your client:

  • What are the most important criteria when selecting a manufacturer?
  • What happens to your technical support staff when the system experiences an unplanned outage?
  • How do you plan on reaching your output goals next quarter?
  • How do you define success in a vendor relationship?
  • What challenges are you facing in trying to maintain market share?
  • What issues are you encountering with supply chain management system?
  • What effects do inferior ingredients have on the products that hit the shelves?
  • What is preventing your team from reaching your sales targets?
  • How does a delayed response to a network outage affect your company?
  • What role will you play in the decision-making process?
  • How do you feel that the new process is affecting your company’s ability to meet client requirements?
  • What is preventing your staff from achieving their MBOs?
  • How is the new legislation affecting your group’s performance?
  • What is causing the gap between where you and where you want to be?

Closed situational questions, on the other hand, enable you to work with the client towards problem clarification. They allow you to uncover specific client information. Rather than allowing a customer to provide big picture answers to your questions, closed situations questions are very targeted and designed to elicit key data. They are controlled and focused. Here are some sample questions you can use:

  • Do outages happen on a regular basis?
  • Are product returns exceeding industry standards?
  • Do you feel like your division is hindered by the new procedures?
  • What has your team budgeted for the program?
  • Is there a formal bidding process?
  • Will the press announcement affect your team’s budget?
  • Have offshore development shops caused problems in the past?
  • Are Federal regulations affecting your output?
  • Who will work with you to make the final decision?
  • Will there be any additional steps in the approval process?

Take some time to create your own personal list of questions that you can use during client sales calls.  Know your questions well (be sure to bring a cheat sheet) but be comfortable enough that you can ask spontaneous questions based on client responses.  Keep notes so as to have all the data you need.

Handling “I Don’t Care” Clients

At some point, you are going to face a prospect that, frankly, could care less.  They have little motivation and are either comfortable with the status quo or don’t see any particular advantage to a particular product or service.  Use questions to bring this type of client out of their shell:

  • What process do you have in place in case your existing system fails?”
  • Do you feel like the added performance from the additives won’t provide any added efficiency?
  • If the rollout could increase sales by 15%, would that be of interest?

ltimately, you have to make a judgment call based on the person you are dealing with. Remember what you have learned about personality types to ask the right questions.

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