Month: March 2015

15 Powerful Open-Ended Sales Questions That Win

By Mike Schultz, Principal, Wellesley Hills Group

Following are fifteen open-ended sales questions you can ask that will help you get the full picture of your clients’ situations and needs. The questions are broken down into three groupings within the RAIN Selling Framework:

  • Rapport
  • Aspirations and Afflictions
  • ImpactFive Rapport Generation Questions: Ask these open-ended sales questions to help you get to know your current or potential clients and establish an understanding of their current reality.
    1. What’s going on in your business these days?
    2. If the Wall Street Journal were to write about what was going on in your industry (or your business) in the last few months, what would they say?
    3. How has your business changed in the last few years?
    4. What’s it like doing your job these days?
    5. Can you help me to understand what’s happening in your world these days?

    Five Questions to Uncover Aspiration and Afflictions: Ask these open-ended sales questions to help you understand what afflictions (challenges) your client is facing, and what aspirations (goals) they have for their business.

    1. What keeps you up at night? (An oldie, but goodie.)
    2. In the best of all possible worlds, what do you think you could do with your business?
    3. What’s holding you back from reaching your revenue (or profit, or other) goals?
    4. If there were no restrictions on you, what business difficulties would you erase? Can you tell me why you say that?
    5. What does success look like for you and your business?

    Five Questions to Uncover the Impact of Solving (or Not Solving) Aspirations and Afflictions: Ask these open-ended sales questions to help put a monetary value on solving your clients’ afflictions or achieving their aspirations.

    1. If you could overcome these challenges, what would happen to your company’s financial situation?
    2. If you were to make this happen, what would it mean to your career?
    3. How would implementing these changes affect your ability to compete?
    4. How do you think senior management would evaluate the success of this initiative?
    5. If you don’t solve (insert the particular challenge here), what kind of difficulties will you face going forward?

    As you ask any open-ended sales questions, bear in mind that a most difficult task is not sounding too salesy when asking questions. While we’ve suggested wording here in this article, feel free to make the wording your own. Find your own voice when asking the questions.

    Also, sometimes all you need is to ask one open-ended question and your client will share with you all the information you need to help them. Other times you may need to ask a few, but make sure you don’t overdo it. You don’t want to make your client feel as if he is on the witness stand.

    One other tip: if your client answers a question but you want them to expand a bit more, ask them, “how so,” or “can you tell me a little more about that?” You’ll be surprised at just how much you can learn, and the difference it will make in your ability to help your clients succeed.



Knowing Your Buyers’ Key Questions is Key to Great Sales

By Michael Cannon, Founder and CEO, Silver Bullet Group, Inc.

Most sales and marketing executives and their teams don’t know their buyers’ key buying questions. That’s why survey data indicate that Sales considers over 50% of the collateral created by Marketing to be useless. And that’s why most marketing and sales people are consistently unable to articulate their value proposition.

Sales Messaging is the Key to Improving Sales and Marketing Effectiveness
The key to creating great sales messaging is, knowing your buyers’ primary buying questions for each of the products and services you offer. Typical buying questions you’ll need to answer when creating sales messaging for prospects include:

  • Why should I meet with you?
  • Why should I change what I currently do and buy a product or service like this?
  • Why should I buy your solution rather than a competitive alternative?

Why Buying Questions are Important
If the goal of great sales messaging is to create rapport and gain traction through the sales process, then answering a buyer’s buying questions is the best way to create alignment with buyers. This is true for several reasons:

  1. The human mind works through inquiry: by posing and answering questions. This is the way we process information and solve problems. When we direct our messaging to answer a buyer’s questions, especially their unstated, internal questions, we create instant rapport. That is, the messaging resonates with the buyer, because it answers the precise questions they are asking themselves.


  1. Questions attract and focus the mind’s attention. When we hear or read a question, we automatically begin trying to answer that question. It’s an unconscious, reflexive response. By framing your sales messaging in the context of answering the buyer’s question, buyers will automatically be attracted to notice and read your messaging.


  1. Answering buyers’ questions helps us sales and marketing folks focus our communications and get to the point. Without questions to answer, messaging tends to veer off course and lacks the specificity necessary to effectively communicate with buyers.


Different Buyer, Different Buying Questions
The first step in determining what buying questions your company needs to answer, in order to be more competitive, is to identify the types of buyers you need to attract and win. The most common buyer types include prospects, customers, channel partners, analysts, and investors. The second step is to identify each buyer’s primary buying questions. We’ve already reviewed a typical prospect’s buying questions. Now notice the differences among the questions for each buyer type:

Customer’s Buying Questions

  • Why should I keep doing business with you?
  • Why should I upgrade to your new product or service?

Channel Partner’s Buying Questions

  • Why should I distribute a product or service like this?
  • Why should I distribute your product rather than a competitive alternative?

Analyst’s Buying Question

  • Why is your product or service a great idea?

Investor’s Buying Question

  • Why is your company a great investment opportunity?

Consider how different the answers to the prospect’s questions are compared to answers for the channel partner, for example. The prospect’s questions are about the business case for buying the product from your company. The channel partner’s buying questions are about the business case for a joint venture with your company. It should be clear now why knowing which buying questions your company needs to answer, can lead to a dramatic improvement in the quality of your messaging, and thus to a dramatic improvement in your company’s competitiveness and win rates.

Great Sales Messaging is Buyer-Centric
In order for your sales messaging to be truly effective, it must be buyer-centric. Your sales messaging must provide a compelling and persuasive answer to your buyer’s primary buying questions for each of the products and services that you offer. This means that the presentation you use for prospects will be different from the one you use for channel partners, which in turn will be different from the ones you use for analysts, investors, etc. If your slide deck is essentially the same for each of your buyer types, what you have is mushy messaging, not great sales messaging. More importantly, you have a tremendous opportunity to improve your company’s sales and marketing effectiveness now, by implementing great sales messaging.

Want to Win the Procurement Game? Stop Playing It – The Five New Selling Rules that Defeat Commoditization

By Mark Shonka & Dan Kosch, Co-Presidents, IMPAX Corporation

The rise of procurement has hit business-to-business selling hard, but its sting has been felt fastest and most painfully in the software sales industry. Unfortunately, IT departments could teach procurement a lesson or two on how to put the squeeze on suppliers, and they have – technology has linked with procurement very effectively.

Exacerbating the situation is the necessity of selling to two audiences: The IT Department and the end user. The easiest way to achieve both has been demonstrating a product’s features, benefits and functions against the competition. But that kind of sale, which was fine just a few years ago, will snare you in the vendor trap fast, thanks to today’s strategic sourcing initiatives. These leading-edge buying approaches focus on getting the lowest price at any cost with everything from quality initiatives that streamline purchasing procedures, to buying consortiums, to online vendor auctions where the lowest bidder wins. And if they still can’t score bigger margins, there are always purchasing consultants who promise to save companies significantly more money than their fee.

Consider this exchange between one of our clients, a Fortune 100 marketing and sales executive, and one of these consultants who was working with his organization:

“You’ve got to stop the spread of sales!” exhorted the Consultant. “You have to do everything you can to keep sales people from selling value. Block them from speaking with decision makers. Force them to the bottom line!”

The Sales Executive was stunned by what this expert was advising. “But we teach our people to sell value,” he interrupted.

“Well, you can’t afford to buy it,” retorted the Consultant.

At this moment, procurement consultants are spouting this kind of advice at leading organizations that you want as customers. Make no doubt about it, procurement is influencing IT to control what you sell and to whom.

You can stop it from happening with these five strategies:

Make Up Your Mind to Sell Value or Become a Commodity
Value is in the eye of the beholder. You need to know how your customers perceive your value:

  • Do they consider you a vendor who fulfills a product need, or
  • Do high-level decision-makers consider you a business resource?

To win today’s sales game, it’s critical you elevate yourself from a vendor to a business resource. You must decide whether you’ll merely react to demand and focus on product and price, or be involved in linking you and your company to the business objectives and issues that are relevant to your customers.

Consider one of our clients, a leading supplier of backup software. More and more often, they were getting beat up on price as they landed on a spreadsheet with other backup software companies and compared on cost alone.

So they stopped selling backup software.

No, they didn’t change their product line, only their mindset. They quit selling backup applications to IT managers and started selling enterprise-wide storage solutions to CIOs, CFOs, and CEOs – the people who lie awake at night worrying about the outcomes of a system crash. You can’t sell bells and whistles anymore; you must reach a higher level by selling the business outcomes of your technology. In the case of our client, that includes business continuity, revenue, profit and brand protection.

Become Immune to the Procurement Trap through Superior Account Management
By reminding customers of the value you bring to the table, you’ll be doing them a huge favor. Too many organizations that make poor buying decisions often pay dearly; it’s your responsibility to be courageous and make sure that doesn’t happen.

A client who was selling to a multinational consumer goods corporation had absolutely no contact with the ultimate end-user of his product – the chief financial officer. Instead, his primary contact was with the VP of information services. In the midst of the selling cycle, the VP told the rep to, “Get the hell out,” with absolutely no explanation. The rep could only conclude that the VP was a jerk who felt compelled to put up an irrational block. It was his wakeup call to move beyond this gatekeeper and speak with the ultimate users of his products. After all, at that point, he felt he had nothing to lose.

Without the permission or knowledge of the information services VP, our client conducted four research meetings with much friendlier, disparate contacts within the organization. He interviewed them about their organization’s strategies, goals and objectives and how they hoped IT solutions would help achieve them. He diligently practiced the 95 – 5 rule: Speaking 5% of the time and listening the other 95%, purposefully not making any kind of a sales pitch. One of those contacts, who was upset that the information services VP hadn’t delivered on a proposed solution, connected the rep to the CFO, with whom he scheduled a presentation. Incidentally, the VP of Information Systems was not invited. This presentation was a far cry from typical product demonstration. Instead, he began his presentation by outlining the inside information he had attained through his research – the organization’s goals, objectives and issues. Next, he gave a brief overview of how his application could help them achieve those goals and objectives, while responding to their issues. Finally, he outlined how, as business partners, they could move forward together with more success than ever before.

The CFO was impressed with the rep’s knowledge of the corporation’s business and what the company could accomplish with the new information system. At the close of the meeting, the rep obtained the go-ahead on all of his proposed action steps and received guaranteed access to the CFO. This is very important, because on a periodic basis, at least once a year, you should strive to get in front of decision makers to review the value you bring to the table, address issues and identify opportunities where you can work together. This is a surefire way to stay beyond the reach of gatekeepers, in this case, the VP of Information Services, and build an impenetrable wall around your customers that will be almost impossible for the competition to penetrate. It’s also a chance to uncover new opportunities to work together.

Proactively Position Your Value
When you’re pursuing opportunities, fight for the line – proactively get in front of decision-makers who can buy and appreciate your value. A client who sold financial software had begun the sales cycle by making a product pitch to an organization’s financial analysts. Today, they call analysts to conduct research meetings about their organization’s strategies, goals and objectives. Ultimately, the sales reps goal is to identify coaches. These are people who are eager to provide inside information because if you win, they win. They use their coaches to network to the decision maker where they leverage the information they’ve gained through research for a presentation that closes the deal.

Change the Ground Rules
Take charge of your sales destiny. Embrace your value and sell only to those who can buy it. You don’t have to follow the process the customer sets before you. You can ask to interview people within their organization to get a better understanding of it. You can make a presentation instead of submitting a proposal. You can choose not to bid on the opportunity if it doesn’t meet your criteria.

Giving demos and making site visits, for instance, have been the modus operandi of the software sales industry. We would advise you to follow the example of one of our clients and only give demos unless they have already made a sales presentation to the decision maker. Not just any presentation – one like that which was outlined earlier – it begins by focusing on the customer’s goals, objectives and issues, how your organization and application can help achieve them and action steps to move forward together.

Even if you have no choice, but to deal with procurement, execute these strategies anyway. Treat them differently than they expect, ask more strategic questions, present to them in a way that demonstrates your value, elevate yourself so you work with the highest level of procurement as opposed to merely a buyer.

Check the power of procurement. Stop playing their games and seize control. Procurement experts believe, at best, that the only benefit sales professionals bring to the table is product knowledge. But a good sales professional brings process knowledge, industry expertise and operations insight that can help prospects see their business from an entirely new, and more profitable, perspective. If you want to thrive in today’s marketplace, this is precisely what you should be selling, but only to the people who are buying it.

When that happens, ‘everybody’ wins.