It’s All Relevant

By Malcolm Fleschner

Salespeople with even a sprinkling of sales training know the sales call drill: Build a little rapport, ask open-ended questions to determine needs and then unleash your best pitch. Thomas Freese, sales trainer and author of Question-Based Selling (QBS Publishing Inc.), agrees that this technique might well work – if you were the only salesperson attempting it, that is. In the real world, however, buyers hear the same pitch and the same questions week in and week out and quickly become jaded toward salespeople.

“Salespeople start with near-zero credibility,” Freese says. “Customers don’t see you walk in the door and say, ‘Wow, a salesperson! Great!’ You inherit the baggage of all the salespeople who’ve walked in that door before you.”

As a result, Freese says, salespeople wind up spinning their wheels with customers who aren’t ready or willing to share information. “Salespeople know they have to ask questions to uncover needs. But just because you ask questions doesn’t mean a customer wants to answer them. The questions are irrelevant until you earn the right to ask. That’s why people tend to clam up, not open up.”

So how can salespeople quickly and efficiently “earn the right” and build the instant credibility that opens the clamshell? Freese says the answer is to shift into a diagnostic questioning mode.

“Instead of asking these broad, salesy questions like ‘Would you like an opportunity to lower your costs?’ I suggest salespeople ask a series of diagnostic questions,” he explains. “Ask informed and relevant questions that demonstrate your breadth of knowledge on the subject, the industry and the unique challenges that customers may be facing.”

Then, Freese says, once customers begin to realize that you’re not just another salesperson blaring out a standard corporate pitch, the entire tone of the sales call shifts. “When this happens you make the transition from an adversarial sales call into a mutual experience. Prospects and customers form an opinion of you during the sales call. What kind of impression do you want customers to form of you? You want them to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. This is a smart person.’ And when that happens they begin to want to help you help them.

“So how can you move someone from an impression of skepticism, which is always their first impression, to this notion that they want to help you? The answer is to earn it by asking relevant and intelligent questions.”