Sample Chapter excerpted from the third edition with permission from
The Sales Career Training Institute.
How To Ask The Right Questions At The Right Times In The Right Way
You might never have been to a psychiatrist, but if you have, you probably realize that the good ones know how to ask the right questions to get you to open up to them.
You as a salesperson, should think of yourself as part psychiatrist and part actor. In the Empathy Step above, we showed you how to act more interested – more concerned about your prospects’ problems, pains and fears. In a sense, to show your empathy, you have to act empathetic.
Now, let’s focus on you as a psychiatrist.
Why Questions Work
If you simply preach as a salesperson, you’ll be perceived as every other salesperson who focuses on their product’s features – and maybe benefits.
You’ll be seen as pushing your own agenda. This is exactly what you don’t want. You want to gently guide your prospect rather than push them into buying your product.
Remember, people buy for their reasons, not yours. They make decisions based on their buying criteria – they don’t decide based on the features or benefits that you think should persuade them. It’s all about their agenda, not yours.
Selling benefits is often a necessary strategy when you are in marketing mode – that is, when you are casting your net wide to try to generate interest. When you are one-on-one with a prospect who shows some interest, however, it is then time to switch your focus from general benefits to their personal problems, their personal fears.
Too often, salespeople keep throwing out the benefits of their products without really knowing whether or not those general benefits are indeed benefits in the eyes of the prospect on the other end of the phone or sitting across the table from them.
As we discussed, the first step is to get your prospect to open up by fishing for their needs, their pains and their fears with your Prospect Fear and Hope List. Then you must get them emotionally involved in their problem to the point where you can influence them. You have to get them to a point where they acknowledge the fearful consequences of facing a futurewithout the help of your product or the hopeful consequences of a future with your product/service.
Behind every problem and every need, there is an underlying fear. Behind every objection, there is a fear. Your objective is to uncover those fears.
How do you do that?
You must ask much more than you tell. So err on the side of asking questions.
What Questions Will Do For You
There are three main benefits to asking questions:
1) questions will make you seem genuinely interested in yourprospect and their problems.
As we discussed in the Empathy Step above, many people long simply to be heard and understood. By focusing on your prospect and their problems through questions, you will show that you genuinely care about hearing their problems. And you should genuinely care, because you want to find out as much information as you can about their problems – especially how they perceive their problems.
2) questions will enable you to gather information which you can then use to position your product or service more effectively when you do so towards the end of the selling process.
Information is power. And as we have covered elsewhere – especially in The 7 Deadly Sins of Selling section, don’t assume that you have all the information about a person’s problems. You need to ask questions at the right time about the right things in order to get the information you need to make the sale.
3) questions will make your prospect aware of the consequences of their actions or inactions.
At the end of the day, you will not be able to push your prospect into the sale. This is what most people do. We have worked with countless salespeople who think that their product is the answer to their prospect’s problem, and they push and push and push to show their prospect that they have the answer.
But people resist, especially when you push too hard. That’s why you must use questions not only to find out about your prospects’ problems but also to make your prospect aware of the consequences of their actions or rather inactions, that is, what could happen to them if they don’t buy your product.
So let’s get started…
All Questions Aren’t Equal
As the sales researcher, Neil Rackham, explains, some types of questions are more powerful than others. Rackham describes the different types of questions, and which types are more effective than others. But we won’t go into that detail here. Again, our goal is to give you actionable tactics rather than focus on the details of research.
We have simplified the process of asking questions for you. We’ll show you what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and why it works.
We will cover many different types of questions throughout this section, which you can use to get yourself out of the many tight situations that you might find yourself in as a salesperson.
A Salesperson’s Greatest Enemy?
Well, let’s talk about objections first. As the Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, said in his combat manual, The Art of War: You must know your enemy.
And many salespeople believe that their greatest enemy in sales is the Prospect Objection. We will show you how to easily disarm your enemy, but let’s get to know our seeming enemy a bit first. Let’s explore a bit about what objections are all about and how they can actually help you sell more and sell faster.
Because it is such an important issue for salespeople across industries, The Sales Career Training Institute has conducted many surveys and interviews with salespeople about sales objections and how to deal with them.
Following is a summary of the concerns that a majority of salespeople have with regard to sales objections. Salespeople admit that they are:
1) Struggling to find the right way to answer the constant stream of objections that they hear from their prospects day in and day out.
2) Searching for ways to keep the sales process going – even if their prospect makes a strong objection as to why they don’t want to buy now.
3) Looking for sales tactics that enable them to pre-empt objections that commonly occur in their particular selling situation.
4) Confused as to why traditional sales tactics - that are designed to answer objections - seem to only create more resistance (that is, more objections) instead of helping them to answer the first objection smoothly and move on.
Obstacles To Overcoming Sales Objections
In recent surveys, which were focused on overcoming sales objections, The Sales Career Training Institute asked sales managers their opinion as to why salespeople seem to be failing to find the real objections and then failing to overcome them if they do find them.
Following are the top 4 answers that we found:
1) Salespeople lack the sales techniques necessary to uncover the real objections.
2) They lack the self-confidence to ask the right questions at the right times, which could be very uncomfortable.
3) They have not prepared in advance with a credible response to objections - even though they may have heard the objection dozens of times before from other prospects.
4) They do not know the best way to weave answers to these objections into their product presentations.
We will cover all of these concerns in this section and the final section, the Reveal Hope Step.
The Psychology of Sales Objections
There are three basic reasons underlying any sales objection that you hear.
The sales strategies and techniques that we cover throughout this section will help you to overcome sales objections, but the first step is to understand why objections occur:
1) Objections may occur because the prospect has doubts, fears or unanswered questions about your product/service - or you as a salesperson.
2) Objections may occur because the prospect is ready to buy but wants to confirm the purchase decision with another decision-maker, get a better deal or otherwise stall you in order to meet their own objectives.
3) Objections may occur simply because the prospect does not want to buy.
Objections: Get Used To Them, Welcome Them, Or Better Yet, Ask For Them
One of the biggest complaints of sales managers is that their salesforces take too long to close deals. With greater competition, prospects need more time to send out requests for proposals, review all of their available choices, set up meetings to qualify vendors and then finally make a decision.
Waiting for prospects to call you back can be one of the most frustrating parts of the sales process. The way to avoid this is to find out more about the objections that your prospects might have about your product or service as early as possible.
All too often, salespeople don’t know the most effective way to answer objections. They would rather try to avoid the hard questions as long as possible in the hopes that they can seal a deal without having to deal with those tough objections.
But is this a good long-term strategy?
First of all, many prospects who don’t reveal their objections to you may want to back out of the purchase later on, which, as many of you know, is usually even more frustrating than not winning the deal in the first place.
Secondly, if you are using this strategy of bulldozing through the sales process quickly in order to avoid objections, it usually means that you are talking to the wrong people in the organization. If you don’t get any objections, you’re probably fooling yourself into thinking that you are actually talking to a decision-maker.
Most decision-makers in organizations have gotten where they are by being careful about decisions they make. Such people cover the bases by asking lots of questions. If you are talking to someone who doesn’t ask a lot of questions or raise at least some objections, you are probably pitching a person in the buying organization who is too low to actually make a decision to buy. This is a waste of your time.
We’ll show you how to ask the right questions that will help you find out who the decision-makers are and how they make their decisions later in the Ask Step. But for now, understand that you must deal with objections. Indeed, you should welcome objections.
Sales Objections, Sales Objections Everywhere
According to the Sales Career Training Institute’s ongoing surveys regarding sales objections, rejection by prospects is the number one fear of salespeople across all industries. And typically, most salespeople see objections as the beginning of the end.
Again, it will take some practice, but you must start thinking of objections as positive signals.
Think of objections this way:
1) Objections may be an indication that the prospect is truly not interested, in which case, you save valuable time. The quicker you get to the objections - and determine that they are valid and that you cannot overcome them with your product/service, the quicker you can move on and spend your time prospecting elsewhere; or
2) Objections may be simply a stalling technique used by the prospect because they are still unsure that they want to buy your product - or whether they want to buy the product from you. In this case, you should look at the objection as an opportunity to engage the prospect - and start building rapport.
Top 10 Sales Objections That You Might Hear -
In One Form Or Another
Interestingly, sales objections that our survey participants hear from prospects remain fairly consistent over time and across industries.
Here are some of the most popular objections that you might hear:
1) “I need some time to think about it.”
2) “I’m interested, but I’ve already spent my budget.”
3) “Your competitors’ prices are much lower than yours.”
4) “I’m only interested in price.”
5) “I have to talk it over with my colleagues.” - or wife, or partner, etc.
6) “Call me in three months, and we’ll be ready to buy then.”
7) “We already have that covered by an existing vendor.”
8) “We can do that in-house and keep the cost down and maintain better control.”
9) “We’ll need to get several other bids before considering your proposal.”
10) “We’re aware of your product/service, but it’s not the right fit for what we need.”
The important thing to remember when you hear such sales objections is that you can overcome them by asking what we call Boomerang Questions.
You may find, however, that a prospect’s objections are valid and therefore you should move on to a new prospect and not waste your time anymore.
But our advice is not to take such objections at face value – at least not at first.
You may have been taught when taking tests that your first answer is probably the right answer. Well, in sales, the first objection that you hear is most likely NOT the real objection. That is why you are going to use Boomerang Questions to find out the real objection that’s usually hiding behind the objection that your prospect tells you at first.
Asking Questions To Overcome Sales Objections
After reading the Top 10 Sales Objection list above and thinking about your own experiences as a buyer, you may realize that many sales objections might be a defense mechanism used by your prospects to ease their own discomfort of having to face a salesperson.
If your experience is anything like most salespeople who participate in Sales Career Training Institute studies, prospects just want to suck information out of you as easily and quickly as possible - usually by just getting you to send them your sales collaterals - and then get you out the door or off the phone so that you they can get back to their busy day.
You must not fall into this trap or you’ll simply be wasting time sending out product-focused sales materials into a black hole and never hearing from these prospects again.
Before You Get To Yes, You Must Get
To The Real Sales Objections
Of course, your number one goal is to get the sale as quickly as possible. But in order to do that you must usually uncover and overcome your prospects’ real sales objections first.
Think of objections as bombs that could explode in your face later on in the sales process. Your job as a salesperson is to qualify your prospects by finding those bombs fast and disarming them. Otherwise, you will spend lots of time thinking that you’re going to get the sale and gladly calling back your prospects or visiting with them again and again, only to discover that one of those bombs that you didn’t uncover blows up in your face at the final presentation or at some other point late in the salesprocess.
Ask And It Shall Be Given
As you already know, you must use questions to qualify your prospects as you get to know them. You may have heard that there are no such thing as dumb questions. Well, we’re sorry to say that there are some not-so-smart questions and then there are smart questions that you could be asking.
If you ask not-so-smart questions, you lose credibility, and most likely, you lose the sale as well.
If you ask smart questions, you build rapport, get your prospects emotionally involved in the sales process, and uncover those deadly objections sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, we have found that most salespeople do not ask enough questions - and those who do ask questions, usually aren’t asking the right ones.
The Answer To All Objections
Many salespeople cringe when their prospects ask questions. But hopefully by now, you realize that you should welcome your prospects’ questions because their questions might indicate that there is at least enough curiosity, enough initial interest, and maybe some underlying pains or fears, that are motivating your prospect to find out more from you.
From our research, we have found that it is how you handle these “objections,” which will strongly determine your success as a salesperson.
So as to not keep you in suspense, we’ll give you the short answer on how to answer most objections that your prospects put to you.
Most of the time, top salespeople answer objections or questions with what we call a Boomerang Question.
Think of how a boomerang works. A boomerang is a special form of throwing stick used by the aborigines of Australia to hunt with. It is very ingenious weapon if you think about it. Unlike a regular spear or a rock, if you throw a boomerang at your prey, and you miss, your weapon doesn’t just fall uselessly to the ground. A boomerang returns to you so that you can use it again.
Similarly, when your prospect asks you a question, we suggest that you mostly throw another question – a Boomerang Question - back to them.
Their answer to your Boomerang Question will help you move closer to the sale because when your prospect responds to it, he or she may provide you with more information about their needs, pains, fears or hopes, and otherwise give you a clue as to why they are resisting your attempts at selling them.
We’ll get into the details of how to throw Boomerang Questions most effectively later. As you might realize, you just can’t simply avoid answering questions all together – you’ll lose credibility. There are specific techniques that you must use when throwing Boomerang Questions if you want them to work for you.
But for now, remember that, especially in the beginning stages of your interaction with your prospect, you mostly want to answer a prospect’s questions with another question – a Boomerang Question.