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Wired for Sales

The lowly question.

by Frank Hurtte

Experts believe questions are important in sales. A quick Google search reveals over 1.87 billion (yep, with a B) responses linked to the term “questions and sales.” Switching over to Amazon, I quit counting after seeing over 30 sales-related books with questions listed in the title.

Armed with these factoids, one might expect that salespeople in our industry possess mighty muscle mass in the frontal lobe of their brain where planning, logical thinking, and question-asking skills live. However, it has been my observation that most do not.

If we were in the used car business, everyone would be familiar with the research done back in 1993 by social scientists Morwitz, Johnson, and Schmittlein. After conducting a 40,000-participant study, they discovered asking potential prospects if they were going to purchase a new car within six months increased their purchase rates by 35%. Is it any wonder my car dealer friends ask the question often?

Back in my younger days, the dark-haired 21-year-old version of myself used trick questions to sell Encyclopedias. We practiced these questions with our trainer and with one another during spare moments. I found the practice a little sleazy, but they produced the monetary results necessary to keep me in college and supply me with Wisconsin Club bargain brew. I am not recommending this type of question or any of the other slimy techniques used in the high-pressure sales carnival.

STILL, QUESTIONS NEED TO BE FORMULATED

Conversations and ride-along sessions with distributor sellers indicate most do not spend time thinking about the questions they need answered while at their customers. To illustrate the point, I typically ask sellers what they would like to accomplish while on a sales call. The salesperson rattles off a few points important to moving the customer forward. I follow up with, you guessed it, a question. What information do they need from the customer and which customer contacts best know the answer?

I see this question as simple, yet many times the answer shows little pre-thought. As I push harder on the topic, the important points begin to surface. However, each of these important points reveals other information required to achieve the goal of the sales visit. Further, it becomes quite clear the salesperson hasn’t spent much time thinking about what information is missing.

QUESTIONS BEFORE THE SALES CALL

Moving forward with my previous example, after identifying the information needed in question format, the salesperson was amazed that the answer to a good many of the information gaps came out in the customer conversation. The flow was a natural “give and take” with the customer and not a 20-question Law and Order style interrogation.

In our coaching of new salespeople, we insist these rookies develop a pre-set list of general questions covering the basics of building a customer relationship and individual reports with key contacts within their accounts. Here are a few basics:

(1) What does your company manufacture?

(2) Who are your end customers?

(3) What do they like about your company?

(4) What is your company best known for?

(5) Can you describe the processes used within your organization?

(6) Are there areas where you are working on improving the process?

(7) What types of engineering issues do you face?

(8) Have you discovered a shortage of skilled workers?

Sales managers must drive the process along by asking their team what they know about the customer situation. Provide constructive criticism by identifying information gaps and pressing for more details. Finally, ferret out assumptions that are often based on unsubstantiated beliefs rather than real data. It’s the sales manager’s job to reinforce the habit of pre-prepared questions.

If you, like me, believe close personal relationships are important to sales success, I heartily believe you should check out 66 questions outlined in Harvey MacKay’s “MacKay 66.” MacKay sold a commodity product and believed the supplier who understood the customer best would end up with the sale. His book of questions has been around since the mid-’80s and I still recommend it.

ANY DUMB QUESTIONS?

The person who said, “there is no such thing as a dumb question” had never traveled with the new distributor seller, Randy, who started every sales call with this question: “You don’t have anything you want to order today, do you?”

Don’t be like Randy.

Frank Hurtte

Straight talk, common sense and powerful interactions all describe Frank Hurtte. Frank speaks and consults on the new reality facing distribution. Contact Frank at frank@riverheightsconsulting.com, (563) 514-1104 or at riverheightsconsulting.com.




This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of 
Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2024, Direct Business Media.

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