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Open Ended Questions to ask your Prospects

First of all, what is an open ended question?

An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or a “no”. The person who is answering has to answer in his or her own words. These are questions that begin with a how, when, where, what, why. On the contrary, a closed ended question is one that expects a “Yes” or a “No” as an answer. Also, a set of options to choose from as a response is a closed ended question too.

They say, to start a conversation with a stranger in a railway station is to talk about the weather. “The weather is nice today, isn’t it ?” is a conversation starter. Tried and tested practice. Though it is a closed ended question, it is a conversation starter. So, you start with a closed ended question and gradually move on to open ended ones. That way, you don’t force the respondent to start thinking right at the beginning itself.

In Sales situations, you normally tend to ask: “Before I start, may I know who are the others who will be joining us for this presentation/demo?” That is a closed ended question. But starts the conversation. And eases the situation. It shows the client that you are human too. And then you follow-up with something like this: “Before the others join us, why don’t you tell me how are you currently solving this problem?”

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Why open ended questions?

  • Sales is largely dependent on your questioning capability.
  • Unless you ask questions, you will never understand what is going on.
  • Your right questions will lead you to the issues which will lead you to solving those issues which in turn will lead you to business.
  • Closed ended questions do not reveal much. Some may be answered in the affirmative and some may not be. But the conversation ends with closed ended questions.
  • To continue with the conversation.
  • To uncover the mind of the customer.
  • To qualify your prospect.
  • To get more information.

Well, I am convinced that I should ask open ended questions early in the sales process. But, how and where do I start?

Good that you have started asking open ended questions already. Now let’s look at what to ask:

  1. Start with something like this: Can you tell me what are some of the key industry trends in your industry?
  2. How do you keep innovating?
  3. What are some of the key challenges that you are facing?
  4. How did you achieve that?
  5. What makes you unique?
  6. What makes your clients stay with you?
  7. What do you do for achieving total customer satisfaction?
  8. What is your process for collecting customer feedback?
  9. What in your view is the biggest client acquisition ever? And why?
  10. Where and how do you find your clients?
  11. Who do you think is your closest Competitor and why?
  12. Where do we go from here?
  13. What are your suggestions for us?
  14. What can we do to help you mitigate those risks?
  15. What is your evaluation criteria?
  16. What is your process in such a scenario?
  17. Why would you want to buy this?
  18. What made you talk to us?
  19. What would make us look even better?
  20. How can we help you?

This is just a sample. Write your own set of open ended questions in your own words. You may want to write one set for each prospect you are meeting since no two sales situations are similar. But remember not to over do it. You have to invest time and energy to do this exercise. It is neither necessary to do this in one sitting nor it is possible to do it in one sitting. You need to get involved, invest time and energy and do this exercise with love.

Happy Selling !! Err Happy Questioning !!

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20 steps to becoming a “Trusted Partner” of your customer

Why should you become a Trusted Partner of your customer? Because, that is the only way you can do business with him/her. Trust can win you business and keep you in business. Old school techniques in Sales do not pay off anymore. So, things like smooth talking, hard persuasion, piling on the prospect, under-cutting, anti-marketing, pushing your product without knowing whether the prospect has any need for it or not and many others do not work anymore. So, what is essential today is to earn trust and respect.

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So, what will help you become a Trusted Partner of your customer?

  1. Forget targets. Forget Metrics, Deep analysis, Demographics, Your Business Plans, Your KRAs etc. These don’t mean anything without customers to serve.
  2. Focus on your Customers – past customers, current customers, past prospects [those that didn’t buy from you], current prospects and the target industry that you serve or want to serve.
  3. Understand them well – their Industry, their challenges, their road maps, their business plans etc.
  4. Use a Consultative Sales approach.
  5. Do not be short sighted. Do not focus just on the deal on hand. Instead focus on helping the customer.
  6. Have an outlook that sets you apart from your competition. May be [may be] your competitor is just focusing on the deal at hand, does not show care and concern for the customer, looks at it as just another transaction, is inhuman etc. Fix these things. You have won the Trust already.
  7. Use every opportunity to serve them well. You will not get a second chance to make a first impression.
  8. Share knowledge. Willingly.
  9. Think that there is a solution to all the problems your customer faces. There is. Go find that solution.
  10. Be a part of their team. Give your sweat and blood.
  11. Stake everything you have to solve the customer’s problems.
  12. Show extreme seriousness when you deal with their problems.
  13. Have a systematic approach. Let the customer know before hand how you are approaching the problem.
  14. Break the steps to solve the problem into series of smaller achievable steps. Show progress at every single step.
  15. Involve your top resources on the job.
  16. Invite your customers to your office, introduce them to your gems, show how you work, show what level of professionalism, commitment, ethics & love, you and your colleagues have towards work.
  17. Let your customer see some of your works that are truly remarkable.
  18. Show you are committed to solving their problems.
  19. Don’t ever sell.
  20. Customers are looking for these everywhere – a sales person who delivers on his promises, a product/service that is a fit for them, a product/service that they like and one that is going to increase their profits, a partner who can be trusted and loved. Will you deliver all these and more?

Then, You are that Trusted Partner of your Customers.

Happy Selling !! Err, Happy Partnering !!!

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Why I love consultative selling and you should too…..

What is Consultative Selling ?

Customers’ needs or pain points forms the focal point of the sale. Your product or service does not. You ask open ended questions and listen. In the process, you learn what is the pain point or needs of the customer and you propose a solution to address that pain point. Sometimes it is also called as Solution Selling.

I am of the strong opinion that the “Selling” in “Consultative Selling” should be renamed “Helping”. It should then be “Consultative Helping”. Because that is what it is. Selling does not happen here because there is no need to. Customer buys your solution since you have solved the problem or addressed the pain points.

Help your customers. They will ensure your success. They will be your brand ambassadors.

What are the benefits of Consultative Selling ?

  1. Customer Experience and Customer Satisfaction is enhanced.
  2. Relationship with the customer gets stronger.
  3. Sales Forecast is more predictable. Shorter sales cycles. In reality, that is. Though people may say the sales cycles are long and sales is highly unpredictable in Consultative Selling and that is not true.
  4. Customer does not get the feeling that someone is “selling” to them. Instead he will start feeling that someone is helping. So, you essentially remove the resistance to selling.
  5. Focus is on the Needs or Pain Points of the customer. Right from the beginning. Sale happens only if you solve those pain points. So, no question of customer becoming unhappy later.
  6. It is a win-win situation. You win only if the customer wins. In the first place.
  7. Referrals: There is more likely-hood of customer referring you to his friends.
  8. You are regarded as an Authority in your field of work. That is a recognition. To strive for.
  9. Customer values your time as much as he values his own.
  10. No false promises or false commitments on either side.
  11. You say what you do. And do what you say.
  12. The relationship is not anymore seller – buyer. It is more of a Partner – Business.
  13. There is more likely-hood of customer trying to adapt or adjust to your product or service. Really.
  14. Return on investments is higher.
  15. You are more likely to clock a high value sale. But that is not the idea. The idea is to address the pain point and make the customer win.
  16. Customer knows, understands and values that you are committed to solving their problems / pain points and not just dumping your product or service on them. So, they trust you. Remember, Trust cannot be bought. Ever.
  17. You don’t have to ask, probe or find out – what are the other needs or plans or goals that the customer has in pipeline that you can solve or help them achieve – instead he tells you what are those – before you ask
  18. Similarly, you identify and tell the customer what they might need in the near future, even before they realize it. This is exactly the reason they need you. This is where you score over others.
  19. You throw competition out of the window.
  20. You don’t win on price. Not anymore. Because, there is no need to.

Do you still need more reasons to practice Consultative Selling err Consultative Helping ?

Don’t “SELL”. Just HELP. And allow the customer to BUY.