Winning sales by understanding your prospect’s needs
If you are in sales and you call on prospects you are less likely to gain valuable insights about their needs and challenges if you are not well prepared. So for all of your initial sales contacts your goals should be:
• To position yourself as a trustworthy partner
• To understand your prospect’s situation
• To uncover their business needs and strategic goals
• To develop new ideas in order to influence or challenge your prospect’s thinking
With these goals in mind try to engage your prospect in an inspiring dialogue be it over the phone or face-to-face. To make this happen start the conversation with open-ended-questions which usually begin with what, why and how. The power of open-ended-questions is that they bring value to your prospect and help you discover your prospect’s “pain points” which are the most important issues you are looking to solve for them. So forget about asking simple yes and no questions which can kill the conversation and lead to awkward silences. Try instead with each question to get a thoughtful answer reflecting your prospect’s point of view (“Please explain why...?”, “How does the market change effects your business?”). A good open-ended question often triggers a response that is wide-ranging and covers different areas.
Here some random samples for open-ended-questions which you could use during a first meeting with your prospect:
• What are the top priorities in your business at the moment?
• How would you describe your current situation?
• What’s the biggest challenge your business is dealing with right now?
• What opportunities do you see?
• What are the top three results you aim at?
• What’s at stake for you?
• What do you look for in a partner?
Try to keep your questions simple following this principle: short questions will get you long answers, and long questions will get you short answers whilst confusing your prospect.
Open-ended-questions also help you to build a trustful business relationship. They put your prospect at ease because they allow any type of reply. If you start with a general question like “How does your business work?” or “What are your priorities at the moment” it’s a non-threatening way to begin.
Just as important as asking the right questions are active listening and pacing. It might be tempting for you to fire of questions, one after another. But for the prospect, the conversation then feels like an interrogation and may put them on the defensive. So ensure that you find a pleasant, well-paced conversation rhythm by giving your prospect enough time and space to answer your questions. Stay away from leading or prompting your prospect and instead listen carefully to what they say or omit. This will help you to suggest areas that you should explore more in depth.
While you have managed to establish a good exchange in a trustful atmosphere it’s also valuable to reflect back on the actual words your prospect uses and to give them the opportunity to elaborate further. You can do so by using such confirming questions as: “So, what you’re saying is...?” “Is it correct to say that...?” etc. This demonstrates that you understand your prospect’s challenges and issues. You can also apply very short questions like “Why?”, “How come?”, “Please explain more?” or “What examples do you have?” as follow-up questions to get to know more regarding something the prospect has just shared with you.
Preparation is 90% of success so whenever a prospect agrees to take your call or have a meeting with you go in prepared. Have a checklist with supportive, engaging and open-ended-questions. However, if you want the conversation to be authentic, follow it’s natural flow by listening to your prospect’s answers and relate to them with your next questions. If - at the end of the meeting - you have the feeling that you are still missing some information, then ask for permission to add some more questions in order to get the full picture.
Great sales professionals are able to influence and demonstrate their credibility and knowledge by asking good questions. The better you are at leading a sales conversation by asking the right questions, the better you become at tailoring a solution that corresponds to your prospects’ needs by building a solid business relationship.
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