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5 Minute Sales Coach: Wait — don’t answer that question!

Human Resources
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By Bill McCrary

Imagine one of your salespeople is talking with a prospect, and the prospect asks, “Have you ever worked for a company our size before?”

Simple question, right? Seems pretty straightforward. How would you expect your rep to answer?

McCraryMost salespeople would hear the question as an opening to impress the prospect by reciting a long list of past and current clients similar in size to the prospect’s company.

You can probably guess what I’m going to say next: Most salespeople are wrong.

A deceptively simple question from a prospect can offer a chance to gain insight into the prospect’s motivation for seeking a product or service. Such insight is invaluable in allowing your rep to position herself to win the sale (or, alternatively, to recognize that what she can offer will not match what the prospect needs or is willing and able to buy, and to quickly move on to more promising leads).

Make sure your people know how to take advantage of these opportunities! How? Well, this is one of those times when it’s smart to answer a question with a question, something like this:

Prospect: “Have you ever worked for a company our size before?”

Salesperson: “That’s a good question—I’m wondering if you asked it for a particular reason?” She might go a little further, and ask, “Can you tell me about your previous experiences with companies that do what we do? What did they do well? What were some things they didn’t do quite so well?”

Now, the prospect could have any number of reasons as to why he asked the salesperson if she had worked for a similar-size company. Maybe the prospect wants to get a sense of how his business will be prioritized—perhaps his company is small, and his current supplier isn’t giving him enough attention. Or maybe he wants to be sure the salesperson’s company has the experience and staff to deliver large orders on time—perhaps the prospect’s company is big and his current supplier can’t handle the demand.  

The specifics of this example don’t really matter; the point is this: A great salesperson listens carefully to everything a prospect says, and she takes advantage of any chance to encourage the prospect to open up about his “pain.” What are the challenges the prospect needs to overcome? What are the issues he’s facing? What goals does he want to achieve?

In our example, does the prospect feel that current or past vendors have dropped the ball because they didn’t understand the specific needs of a company like his? How so?

This is critical knowledge for your rep to have! If the salesperson in our example had simply answered the prospect’s question with a catalogue of past clients, she would have thrown away a fantastic opportunity to uncover information that’s potentially vital to winning the business.

Instead, she turned the tables and gently prompted the prospect to share some backstory. Now this salesperson is one step closer to fully comprehending what the prospect really needs and offering him a best-fit solution that will solve his problems or help him meet his goals. She’s also one step ahead of her competition.

Lesson for your team: More information from the prospect always equals more understanding, and more understanding leads to more closed sales or to fast and relatively painless discoveries that the opportunity is not worth pursuing.

So nix the knee-jerk, self-promoting response to a prospect’s inquiry. That benign question just might be hiding a deep vein of pain. Teach your people to mine it! 

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