This topic is covered in countless sales books, courses, articles, and podcasts, but if there is one thing that defines a good sales representative is the capacity to ask good questions.
So in this blog post, we decided to contribute to this discussion by looking back at our 20 years of sales experience and bringing you the 5 key questions that will help you close any sale.
Asking questions is probably your most helpful tool to build a reliable and sustainable pipeline. But often, in the process of qualifying a lead, nurturing a deal, and closing a sale, we forget or avoid asking questions altogether.
This is usually because of one of two reasons:
1) We think we know everything so we can't think of anything to ask.
2) We're afraid to bother the client with our doubts and concerns.
If it's reason number 1), then this is a real risk because nobody ever has all the answers and if we think we do, then we're probably assuming information that is likely to be wrong. So don't do it - it's better to ask "silly questions" (there are no silly questions) and validate all the information, than assume that what you want it to be true is true and realise that a false belief has cost you a business deal.
If on the other hand, it's reason number 2), then you can look at questions as a way to serve your clients better, understand their problems more deeply, and present more relevant, aligned solutions. This will motivate you to be more forward and confident with what you want to ask.
Now on to the *actual* questions, here they are:
1) What is the pain/challenge you are trying to solve?
If you don't ask yourself this question and in turn interrogate your clients to understand their underlying motivations, it will be very difficult for you to sell your product effectively.
People are busy and will only care about what you're trying to say when they realise there is something in it for them. So the better you grasp and appreciate your clients' problems, the better you will be able to position your product to be the solution they are looking for, and sell!
2) What criteria is the sale relying on? And how important are they for the decision-making process?
Ask this question to understand which factors influence the sale decision. Some of these factors are the pricing, the SLA (or support provided), the delivery timeline, particular features or references in the local market.
Identify these factors and rank them by order of importance so your proposal addresses each and every one of them to ensure success.
3) Is there a budget for the project? How much are you hoping to invest?
This is one of the most important questions to ask during the qualifying stage of any deal. Presenting business proposals and sharing quotes without understanding budgets first, is a quick way to lose opportunities.
Think of this as a matchmaking process, both parties need to be in the same frame of mind for a relationship to progress to the next stage and last in the long term; so before you start thinking about closing a sale, consider if the budget you're presenting is adequate and will meet the client's expectations.
4) What are the timelines of this project? When are you hoping to have the solution up and running?
Learning more about when the client is hoping to have the solution installed will give you precious insights about when you may be able to close the deal and receive the Purchase Order (PO).
This, in turn, will contribute to a more reliable pipeline and forecast.
5) How's the approval process? Who are the key decision-makers? Who's going the place the order and how?
We often arrange presentations, and schedule demos, only to realise that all this time, we haven't been talking to the key influencers and decision-makers. Not understanding who's who within your client and clarifying who is really leading on a particular requirement, can cause delays and lead to confusion, ultimately costing you the deal.
It's also important to understand who is expected to be placing the order so you know who you can follow up with if there are any questions, issues, or concerns.
Bonus question: How can I help? What are the next steps?
If you're still reading, thank you! We appreciate you 💙
So here are two more questions you should ask to nurture the opportunities in your pipeline:
How can I help?
This a good one to ask when you feel stuck and are not sure which direction the deal is going. By offering to help you are more likely to get a response, as this usually generates positive feelings internally regardless of whether the person will take you up on your offer or not.
What are the next steps?
This one is probably obvious, but never finish a business conversation without first asking what the next steps are, otherwise you've probably just wasted your time. It's important to have a sense of where the opportunity is going and if there are any actions you need to complete in order to secure the sale. It's also helpful to inform the follow ups.
Were these helpful for you? If so, we'd love it if you could share this with your network!
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About the author
João Beato Esteves is the CEO of United Channels Consulting. He founded the company in 2017 after 20+ years of working in the IT and cybersecurity industries developing channels and leading sales' teams for prominent companies such as Symantec and disruptive start-ups like Watchful Software.