FOCAS Questions Boost Sales

By Heather Baldwin
There’s been much debate about whether, in the New Economy, sales is a dying profession. It is, if you’re talking about traditional, transactional methods of large account selling. To survive in the New Economy, sales leaders must transform their transactional sales team into a disciplined unit of businesspeople who sell, says Marc Miller, CEO of Twinsburg, Ohio-based Sogistics and co-author of Selling Is Dead (John Wiley & Sons, 2005). Part of that transformation must include the use of FOCAS discovery during the initial sales call to identify the basis for a relationship with the buyer, uncover key goals or initiatives and create dissatisfaction. Here, says Miller, are the four components of a proper FOCAS discovery.
1. Approach (about 90 seconds). The approach is the “positioning component of the call,” says Miller. “Sellers position their organization, the reason for the sales call itself and themselves personally during the approach.” The key to executing it well is in how you answer this question: What business are you in? If you position your organization as a transactional one (We sell widgets), you’ll lose. Instead, position yourself as a high-value-adding organization (We are in the business of reducing manufacturing errors to decrease production costs).
2. FOCAS Questions (30 to 90 minutes). FOCAS, an acronym, is a questioning model with five types of questions.
  • Fact questions. Start with factual questions to collect data, facts and information about the buyer’s general business, current situation and applicability of your offering. Don’t spend more than five to 10 minutes on these questions or buyers will get impatient.
  • Objective questions. These are used to identify and investigate the buyer’s objectives, goals, aspirations and visions. For example: Can you tell me some of the things you are trying to accomplish over the next 12 months?
  • Concern questions. These explore the difficulties, dissatisfaction, concerns and problems your prospect might be experiencing. A good concern question would be: Can you tell me about any challenges you might be having in the area of inventory management?
  • Anchor questions. These questions enable salespeople and prospects to explore the seriousness of problems. Miller calls them anchor questions because he says good sellers drop anchor on found problem areas to explore implications and grow dissatisfaction. Most people don’t fully understand all the implications of a problem such as late shipments; anchor questions draw them out.
  • Solution questions. These develop the buyer’s recognition of the value or usefulness of your solution, for example: How much of a savings would that mean annually?
3. Verbal summary (1 minute). A good verbal summary re-states the most significant problems, issues and concerns you heard, and the critical goals, aspirations and objectives you discovered. After summarizing, ask prospects if they want to add to the list. Then ask them to rank and prioritize the critical problems and goals.

4. Commitment (30 seconds). An effective discovery call is concluded by getting prospects to make a clear and specific commitment – either a final yes (unlikely in major account selling) or a progression to the next step in the sales process.