Sales coaches teach this again and again: the most important thing in sales is to ask questions. No, it’s not! The most important thing in sales is to generate curiosity, urgency and the feeling of “having to and wanting to” while simultaneously minimizing the risks a decision may involve.
All this cannot be achieved by endless series of questions. In fact, quite the opposite is the case.
A US study shows a strong negative correlation between asking discovery questions and closing deals: The more questions you ask in a sales pitch, the more likely you are to lose the deal. This involved analyzing 39,105 sales meetings that were held on various WebCon platforms. Here is the result:
This “old-school technique” of asking questions is based on the assumption that people are very well informed and know exactly what they want.
However, we live in a world with significant information overload. We are overwhelmed by all the challenges that we have to solve and the countless possibilities available to solve them. Huge volumes of data combined with infinite sources of information do not reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed.
In sales training, marketers are mistakenly trained to obtain information rather than seeking to create added value for the customer. But time is a precious commodity and is becoming increasingly valuable – buyers only grant time to providers from whom they benefit and not the other way around.
Decision makers want buying guides to help them prioritize challenges, reduce the complexity of decisions and mitigate risk.
As a CEO once said: “Your job isn’t to ask me what’s keeping me up at night. It’s to tell me what should be.” (Matt Dixon, The Challenger Sales)
It is a kind of “discovery fatigue” that particularly occurs at senior level and C-level. It can have the following consequences:
1) Your customer is extremely annoyed. In the best case, they are friendly and end the meeting on time. In the worst case, they’ll have to leave for their next meeting after some minutes.
2) In the best case, the decision maker transfers you to the next lower level. In the worst case, they are transferred to an even lower level.
3) You get stuck on the lower level, because the contact person does not feel confident, that you can talk to the Senior or C-Level on eye level, that you don’t have anything to say, that will interest the boss.
In all three cases, the opportunity can be described as being “stalled for a long time”.
In addition, by asking the wrong questions at the wrong time e.g. concerning need, budget, specific requirements, next steps etc., you quickly make yourself comparable, open yourself up for price discussions and allow the customer to dominate the buying process.
It doesn’t mean though, that you should fall into the other extreme of not asking any questions and not listening to the client at all.
What it means:
The most valuable information is found in the customer’s questions, not in their answers, therefore
1) Make your customer curious during the conversation, so that he wants to learn more about your solution, he wants to understand more and take next steps. Create urgency so that the customer gets the feeling of: “I really need to do something, now!”
2) Don’t hesitate to talk! Have a conversation on eye to eye level. Imagine you are on a first date with someone and they just ask you questions and tell you nothing about themselves.
3) When you ask questions, make sure you really listen to the customer’s response and don’t immediately jump to the next question. Instead, respond by talking about an aspect that would be of interest to the customer.
Remember: You don’t win with WHAT you sell, you win with HOW you sell