While being interviewed by Geoffrey James for an article he was writing for Selling Power magazine on what managers need to do to effectively coach their sales team when cold calling, a question regarding how effectively salespeople are qualifying their prospects surfaced during our conversation. (Geoffrey is also the author of seven books and the columnist for BNET, Business 2.0, CIO, The New York Times as well as many other publications.)
You can find Geoffrey’s blog here, which lists some of the deeper qualifying questions that salespeople must learn to ask.
To go beyond these questions for a moment, what I actually found to be intriguing were the comments that readers had posted after reading his blog. Now, I’m all for and certainly encourage feedback and comments, all in the spirit of mutual collaboration, growth and stimulating a valuable dialogue. And I applaud anyone who’s willing to take the time and post their thoughts and comments, good or bad, as I am always open to a healthy debate with those who may not always agree with my point of view or share a different perspective on the subject matter at hand.
The lesson I want to highlight regarding reader comments is this. While we all must challenge what we see and hear regardless of the source of information, we need to be mindful about how literal we are and to what degree we internalize the advice.
One person commented, “Certainly I feel that this list of questions is a good guide to a salesman for points of discussion and are generally important to him and his business, but as listed they might well cause offence. They would need to be more carefully phrased and made relevant to the prospect by careful research.”
I couldn’t agree more! After all, these questions were not written the way I would ask them either, but were extracted from a conversation we had and then written as a way to simulate new thinking regarding the additional criteria that every salesperson needs to develop a greater sensitivity and awareness around when qualifying each prospect.
Another reader commented on certain questions they agree are rock solid and the ones they feel are not.
This drives my point home. That is, take what you read and look at the spirit behind the questions or any advice, rather than just judging the question itself, black and white, yes or no, it works or it doesn’t. Thinking in absolutes leaves no room for innovation or creativity. Rigid thinking blocks the ingenuity we need to tap into that fosters change and improved results.
There are very few universal hard and fast laws when it comes to selling that work 100% of the time. Sometimes strategies work and sometimes they don’t and sometimes they work only a percentage of the time, which to me is still a huge win. After all, a 35% improvement is still a noteworthy improvement.
Looking for the ultimate fix and perfectly flawless solution quickly becomes a diversionary tactic and justification of your current performance, as well as an excuse why you do not have to change you ways or try something new.
Unless something is written specifically for you or crafted for you or for your company or sales process, we need to be reminded that we need to take the advice we read and then tweak it to make it real for us. Just like a buffet, we take what we like, leave what we don’t, and mix certain parts or ingredients together so they work for us.
Let us not lose sight of the value here. As Geoffrey wrote, “When most sales reps are developing a B2B sale, they limit questioning to generic issues like which products the prospect is currently using. Here’s a better idea: ask questions that reveal if the prospect is truly qualified to buy and how the buying decision will be made. This is not to say that product-level info is useless. But why bother to probe for that data if the opportunity isn’t real? If you have the answers to these questions, you know whether or not you’re wasting your time with this prospect, or whether you’ve got a deal that’s waiting to be done.”
Some readers of this blog actually provided some great examples of how to re-language these questions so they are more artfully crafted and positioned in a way that would make YOUR prospect more receptive.
So, keep those thoughts and comments flowing, don’t stop challenging what you hear and enjoy the buffet of knowledge in front of you.
Reality is, after all, created in the language we use.