Four Questions For Every Deal

By Heather Baldwin

If you’re like most sales managers, you often ask your sales reps this question: What do we need to do to close this deal? It’s the wrong question, says Bill Stinnett, author of Think Like Your Customer. Not only does the question come from the wrong perspective – yours and not the customer’s – but the rep could give you three dozen answers that would still not close the sale. To truly understand what needs to be done, ask these four questions instead.

1. What does the customer’s buying process look like? Buying and approval processes vary widely from prospect to prospect. Sales reps must understand exactly what it will take for prospects to make a purchase of the shape and scope they have proposed. Some of the questions reps should ask to understand the buying process include: What is involved in getting funds released for a budgeted expenditure? Who is involved in the approval process? What would it take to get approval for an unbudgeted expenditure and who would be involved in that process? What is the signing authority of the person to whom we are selling?

2. Where is this customer in the buying process? It’s important to know if prospects are day or two away from signing a contract, or if they are still kicking the tires and thinking about buying something someday? Most likely, they’re somewhere in between. It’s up to reps to figure out where. Stinnett cautions that almost everyone in prospects’ organizations will have a different view about how decisions are made and where they are in the buying process. Therefore, reps should get as many different perspectives as possible and use them to draw their own conclusions.

3. What is the next reasonable step the customer needs to take? If you can figure out where prospects are in the buying process and what still needs to happen before they can buy, reps may be able to ascertain a logical and reasonable next step. If your reps are selling a complex, multi-million dollar solution to a major business problem, for example, it would be totally unreasonable to ask for the order on the first or second visit. The question is: What is the next reasonable step the rep could ask that would get the prospect moving from point B to point C?

4. What can we do to get the customer to take that step? Once reps understand what prospects need to do next in their buying process, they can figure out what needs to be done next in the selling process. “Only after you understand prospects next reasonable step and what their overall buying process looks like should your focus shift to: What are we going to do to get them to take that next step?” says Stinnett.