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Top Ten Solution Sales Questions
Guest articles > Top Ten Solution Sales Questions
by: Luke McLeod
I thought I’d share some of my top questions I ask my prospective clients and key accounts. Now I’ve tried to keep these questions as universal as possible, so of course you would want to tailor them a bit to specifically suit your service/product (however don’t go too specific, especially when dealing with C-Level executives/Decision Makers, you want to keep it fairly ‘Big Picture’ orientated). Also I know this list could be a Top 100, however I’m hoping you’ll share some of your top questions that have brought you success in the comments section. For now, here are some questions that have brought me success:
10. “What are your key objectives for the next 12 months?”
This is a classic leading question after you have asked a few questions about the background and current situation of the company. If you are dealing with a C-Level decision maker they usually love talking about the future and goals of the company. It’s also a ‘Big Picture’ question, meaning that it is quite a broad question. However, every sculptor has to find his lump of granite before he begins chiseling away at his masterpiece.
Notice I also asked ‘your’ not the ‘company’s’ key objectives. Why? Because this has made it a more personal question and if they are the decision maker, you want to come across as fixing their problems (which are generally going to be the company’s anyway).
9. “How do you plan to go about achieving these objectives?”
(You’ll notice that a lot of these questions follow on from the previous question. This is so I can give you some flow and structure to the questions) Everybody loves a plan, although not many people have one. The larger the business you deal with, usually the better the plan. However when you ask this, most often than not you will receive a nervous look, with a fingers crossed response about a plan they hope will work.
What you are listening for in the answer are gaps and commonalities where your products/services may be able assist in helping them achieve their objectives. Take down as many notes as possible, making sure you circle the prominent words and statements they mention. This is vital for when you are putting together your recommended solution.
8. “What are some of the challenges you think you might encounter in achieving these objectives?”
A lot of sales professionals would have thought that they had attained what they needed to provide a solution from the answer they received to the previous question. However, great sales professionals know that their probability of securing a deal with increase dramatically if they not only help their customer achieve their objectives, but also if they eliminate any challenges, current or future, that they are or might experience.
Pain is a by far a greater influencer on making a decision than what pleasure is. Although we don’t like to talk about our problems, once we do or once we’ve realised that there might problems, what do we want? We want them fixed, don’t we?!
7. What could be the effect/impact if you don’t address these problems?”
This is an impact question and I would suggest you tread carefully when asking such a question. Depending on the individual they may feel uncomfortable answering a question that probes this deep. It also takes them into a mindset of frustration and possible anger as they realise what could happen if they don’t address the challenges.
However if you frame the question right and have built enough rapport it can give you some powerful content to put in your proposal and presentation.
6. “When ideally do you need these problems solved by?”
A business problem without a date to fix it by is like a tumor without a set date for surgery. You may not be able to directly see it and the effect it is having, but it will continue to grow and do damage until it’s too late to fix.
Try and get as specific as possible with the date. The more specific the date, the more real the problem is. If they say “Within 6 months”, what are they going to say if you ask the same question in 6 months?? I bet it would be the exact same answer “Within 6 months”. It will always be extended, because there’s no set date. Whereas if you can have them commit to a particular period of a certain month e.g. End of May, that doesn’t change and the closer you get to that date the more urgent it becomes to fix the problem.
5. “From your perspective, what do you think frustrates your staff the most with their work?”
When you ask a question about how others are possibly feeling or doing. It will often bring a new light to the table that they haven’t seen before. We get so consumed with our own problems and responsibilities that we often forget about the other people around us that have just as much of an effect on the company’s success as we do.
This is especially the case when you ask this to a C-level executive, because they know the importance their staff has on the performance of the business. It also reminds them of the responsibility they have to lead their staff and make sure they are happy with their job and who they work for.
4. “How are you currently measuring the success of (what ever your product/service can fix – e.g. technology, productivity, sales, HR…)?”
Measurement is very similar to planning. Everybody likes it, everybody knows the importance of it, yet few actually do it. Another great question to ask a C-Level executive, because every CEO wants to see the ROI of any process, people or technology they have invested in.
It will also bring to their attention (without directly pointing it out) that they could have a better solution that will improve their ROI on that particular part of their business.
3. “What will be the process in having this (your solution) approved?”
There is nothing more frustrating than spending all your time putting together a proposal & presentation and then coming back and presenting it all to hear the words “Great, we’ll now discuss this and be back in touch.” Aaaarrggghhh!!! You must know how they will approve the deal before you present anything! This could be one of the biggest mistakes sales professionals make. It can make a huge difference to the outcome of the deal going ahead.
This question will also determine whether the person you speaking to is the decision maker. If they say they will have to go to another other person to have it approved, you either want to see whether they can be present when you present your solution or at least find out as much information as possible about them. E.g. How they make decisions and what they would want to see in a proposal.
2. “What are the essential points that need to be evident in our recommendation?”
A black and white question that will give you the framework to build your recommended solution around. There’s no use coming back and presenting a solution that is based on employee engagement and productivity levels, when they specifically want to see predicted ROI from a monetary perspective.
Rule of thumb: There should be 3 KEY points you want to make evidently clear in your recommendation/presentation. Any less and they will feel like you haven’t attained a good enough understanding of their challenges and any more than 3 they will start to get confused, feeling like you haven’t clearly understood their key challenges.
A why question makes people think. It makes them go deeper into their answer where they generally wouldn’t go. Most people will take the ‘top layer’ response as a good-enough answer. However, those that go that extra layer down, will surely be rewarded for their efforts. Add a “Why?” to most of the above questions and see what happens. E.g. “What are your key objectives for the next 12months?” ANSWER: “Increase net revenue by 20%, Improve productivity levels of staff and develop a consistent framework to our approach and image.”
All good information that I’m sure some of your services/products can assist with, right? But let’s not start rubbing our hands together yet. Let’s add an extended “Why?” question to that answer.
“WHY are these the key objectives?”
ANSWER: “Because we need to reach this growth percentage to keep our shareholders happy, we also feel that our staff lack structure and process around their responsibilities and we want our clients to receive a consistent message at all points of contact with-in our company.”
Ahhh that’s more like it. Look at some of the words used in that answer: need, feel, lack, want. All emotional words that have been said by them (not you) and have now made these objectives more real, urgent and important.
Luke McLeod writes topshelfsales.wordpress.com, a blog dedicated to offering the very best in 'Top Shelf' advice. The blog has been in operation for close a year now and is getting some good attention.
Contributor: Luke McLeod
Published here on: 01-Jan-12