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There’s no shortage of advice and tips on WHAT questions you should be asking on a sales call.  Asking the right questions is critical to ensuring that you can focus your time and effort on the right opportunities and increase your chances of winning them.

However, it’s not just about asking the right questions but HOW you ask matters just as much.  We hear a lot about the “science of sales” and the “art of sales.”  If the questions you ask are the science, how you ask them would be the art.

Every organization has a set of questions unique to the product they’re selling and the market they’re targeting.  So we’ll take a look at three of the top common-error questions sales reps ask on calls and what you can do to get the most out of them.

1. Don’t Ask: “Are you the decision maker?”

Yes, you need to know who calls the shots in order to close the deal, but asking this question the wrong way could pose some unnecessary challenges for you.  Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.  If you aren’t the decision maker and you were directly asked this question, how would you feel and react?

Not everyone will react negatively but you can make the person feel unimportant or even insulted.  Your contact might even stretch the truth to say that they are indeed the decision maker, in which case you may easily end up wasting your time.

The biggest pitfall with this approach is that you’re coming across as a salesperson rather than someone who’s interested in helping the customer address their challenges and objectives.

And remember, you’re not running a charity here.  You have something valuable to offer.  If you’re posing this question, it means, in most cases, you are past the discovery/qualification stage and have determined some level of mutual fit.  So don’t shy away from asking.  With a little bit of confidence and tact, you can use this question to not only get the answer you need to move the opportunity forward, but to further establish credibility and even build a partnership with your contact to come up with a roadmap to close.  Don’t treat it just like a Q&A.  Turn it into a discussion.

What to do instead: “Derek, given our discussion thus far, I’m excited that there’s a great alignment between the two parties.  Help me understand, how do you guys go on about evaluating something like this?  And if we are indeed the solution of your choice, what does that purchasing process look like?”

Pro Tip: Capture the customer’s buying process in detail and draft a time-based roadmap of action items that you can share and collaborate with your contact.

2. Don’t Ask: “As I understand it, your business does [xyz]. Is that correct?”

Though this may seem like a good way to confirm your research and show your prospect you’re paying attention, there’s an even better way to ask.  The pitfall to this question is that it could create a closed line of conversation.  The client only needs to answer with a “yes” or “no,” and may not feel prompted to engage in further conversation.

Even worse, asking it this way robs you of a big opportunity: hearing about the prospect’s business, their challenges and goals in their own words.  Getting a first-hand account directly from the prospect is the first step towards giving yourself the best shot at winning the deal.

Again, rather than treating it simply as a Q&A, turn it into an engaging discussion and listen attentively. This question also affords you the opportunity to not only learn what they do but to dig deeper with follow-up questions.

The better your understanding of the customer and their market, the more you can apply that knowledge when talking to others in the same space, enabling you to better establish your credibility and build trust with your prospects.

What to do instead: “Based on my research, I understand that your company does [xyz] but I’m curious and always love hearing directly from the customer.  Could you help me better understand your company and the market you play in?”

Pro Tip: A great follow-up to this is briefly noting a case study from a customer in the same space and how your solution has successfully helped them achieve results.  

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3. Don’t Ask: “What’s on the company roadmap and what are your goals for this coming year?”

There are good intentions behind this question.  But let’s take a look at a few pitfalls with this one.  A big part of the HOW is the timing.  To get the most bang for your buck, you might want to consider when to ask this question.  If you’ve yet to establish some credibility and trust with your prospect, he or she may not feel the need to respond thoughtfully with the level of insight and honesty needed to help you advance the deal.  Be thoughtful about the timing of the question.

Second issue with this question?  It asks more than one thing.  The more parts a question has, the less likely you are to get the information you need.  Not only do people often forget the first half of a complex question, they may choose to selectively reply, only answering the parts they are most comfortable with.

So break down this question into different parts and be specific. Enumerating also helps.  And again, rather than treating it like a Q&A, turn it into a discussion.

What to do instead: “What would you say are the top 3 objectives for your organization in the next 6 to 12 months?” / “As the Chief Information Officer, what are the 3 top-of-mind challenges facing you today?”

Pro Tip: Use the answers and the insights provided by your contact to frame how you pitch and position your solution, so as to ensure that you can always point back to how your solution will help the customer address their strategic objectives and challenges.

Embrace the Art of Sales

The examples above are only a handful of common and important questions that are all too easy to ask without much thought.  Our suggestions simply demonstrate how small adjustments to how you communicate can foster better discussions and ultimately, results.

The key here is that a little more thought and purpose into HOW you ask can have a big impact on the outcome of the deal.  Don’t just ask the questions.  Rather, use them as a way to kindle an engaging discussion.  And consider: What type of personality are you dealing with?  What is the objective of the call?  What is your prospect expecting out of this call?  What is the tone and the flow of the conversation?  You don’t have to overthink it.  Simply being a bit more mindful will help.

You’ve done all the hard work of getting the prospect to meet with you.  You owe it to yourself to get the most out of the opportunity and set yourself up for success.

Want More Sales Tips?
Check our our blog post and master your customer calls with these 6 pro tips.