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Sales Tips: To Ask or Not to Ask about Executive Insomnia

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Recently I was involved in a discussion about different types of questions sellers can ask during calls to have a buyer share goals (or problems) that can be achieved through the use of a seller’s offering.

We discussed the types of questions that can be asked and the pros/cons of each:

Open questions…

  • PRO: Open questions allow buyers the comfort of going wherever they want in responding.
  • CON: The risk is that buyers can stray from the direction sellers were hoping to go.

Control questions…

  • PRO: Control questions elicit short responses (a yes or no, a number, etc.) that allow sellers to drive conversations.
  • The downside is they can dominate calls if they use too many control questions. In extreme cases buyers can feel like hostile witnesses being cross-examined.

Framing questions…

  • PROS: Framing questions offer the best of both worlds. They start with the words “How do you ___?” Sellers fill in the blank that will provide boundaries as to what areas buyers will discuss. Framing questions require essay answers, facilitate buyers doing more talking and allow sellers to more gently steer conversations in desired directions.

What Keeps Executives Up at Night

Executive Insomnia
Someone then asked if “What keeps you up at night?” was a good or bad question to pose to executives. Before buyers will share goals or problems sellers must establish their sincerity and competence (Steven Covey’s definition of being deemed trustworthy). I feel buyers would be put off if asked this question prematurely.

To elicit meaningful responses, sellers have to earn the right to pose the question.

A safer approach? Offer a brief title/industry specific success story with a goal the seller feels may be relevant to the buyer and ask if they’d be interested in learning more. If a goal isn’t shared, the seller could ask framing questions to establish credibility. If no goal is shared, the seller can offer a menu of goals as a final effort to get a buying cycle started.

This is a gentler approach. If goals aren’t shared, then sellers can provide a menu of goals that have kept other executives awake and ask if any apply to the buyer.

Sales Tips: Always, Sometimes or Never in Selling

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

In high school I was fortunate to have an outstanding Geometry teacher as a sophomore. On some quiz or test questions Mr. Fisher would list statements and students had to provide the answer of alwayssometimes ornever that they felt applied. It caused us to consider all options.

Always or Never in Selling

One of the most fascinating things about selling is how different sales can be.

Because selling is so unstructured in most companies, the terms “always” and “never” seldom apply.

I had a situation with a student years ago that helped me realize an “always” in sales. Chris was worried about a $960K opportunity he was working on. He approached me on Tuesday and told me the CIO would be making a decision on Friday. An internal “coach” had shared with him that $850K had been budgeted and suggested that Chris “sharpen his pencil.”

Over lunch with Chris and his manager I asked if he was “Column A.” He felt he was in as he had initiated the opportunity and Column B, a large player in the space had gotten in much later. Chris’ manager had already said they could meet the $850K price and be even more aggressive if necessary.

I suggested that Chris call the CIO, leave the price where it was and ask if he could bring his manager in for a meeting on Friday. I told him that if he got the meeting I was pretty sure he was Column A because I didn’t feel a CIO would schedule the meeting if Chris wasn’t going to get the business. Chris informed me awhile later that the meeting was set.

On Monday Chris called. He had gotten a $960K order on Friday. Amazing in that they were willing to go to $850K or lower.

After we hung up I realized if Chris had not been Column A any number he gave would have been used to get a better price from the other vendor. The lesson learned:

A seller should always negotiate as though they are the vendor of choice.

This also means that if you are pressured for better pricing you can respond by asking if you are the vendor of choice and that price is the last obstacle. If the buyer says no you can acknowledge they need to finalize their decision and that if you are the vendor of choice you could try to agree to terms. If you are Column A they’ll come back to you.

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