The Question Quotient

By Geoffrey James

Most software sales reps think the best way to sell their product is to educate users with a demonstration. Feature or function selling is generally ineffective, however, because it seldom connects directly to the problems and goals of customers’ organizations. While some techie types might enjoy viewing and critiquing your software, they seldom are the managers and executives who have actual buying power.

If your sales method emphasizes product features and demonstrations, you’re probably taking the path of least resistance and focusing your sales efforts on those low-level techies. More importantly, you’re probably having problems selling higher up the food chain because feature or function selling doesn’t speak to the concerns of executives.

To overcome this problem, switch from selling with presentations and demonstrations to selling with investigation and questioning. First, map your software’s functionality to examples of real customer usage so you can better communicate the benefits you’re offering. Then recast your sales role to that of a professional consultant rather than a glorified demo dolly.

Before going to customer meetings, plan out the questions you’re going to ask. Come up with two types of questions – diagnostic and usage scenario.

1. Diagnostic questions help customers articulate needs and goals by identifying potential problems and opportunities. Examples: How often are products late because component parts aren’t in the supply chain? How do you deal with customers whose products don’t ship on time?

2. Usage scenario questions help customers visualize how they can solve their problems and achieve their goals by using your product. Example: Would it have a positive financial affect on your company if there were one-tenth as many inventory failures?

Customize these questions for each potential decision-maker you might encounter. For example, ask the CFO about cost savings, ask the sales VP about the importance of increasing sales revenue, ask the marketing VP about ad campaigns and ask the CIO about compatibility issues. Using questions, rather than demonstrations, keeps the focus on customer needs, which is more likely to result in a sale.

The above is based on a conversation with Michael Bosworth and John Holland, co-authors of Customer Centric Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2003). They can be reached at (858) 350-5570 or via their Website at