Two Words You Always Want To Use To Help You SELL BETTER!

Each group or profession has a number of conventions that become deeply rooted in their ethos, some stand the test of time and prove their value to the survival of the group over time; others fall as they are challenged. There are a few which continue to be adhered to by the masses even with their questionable worth, and while a few members of the group move to alternatives, their demise is slow and damaging to the well-being of those who continue to hold fast. Sales and sales people are no different; as discussed in previous issues, the "always be closing" myth is one; the concept of "value proposition" based selling seems to have met it's match with the propagation of the "Procurement" and/or the elite edition "Strategic Sourcing" class. (Never understood the strategic aspect here, please send us a note if you can explain). Needs or pain based selling is slowly proving to be ineffective, although still seems to be in vogue for many.

Another of these that is well entrenched is the whole notion of the positive karma attributed to "open-ended"' questions, versus the constant bashing of "closed-ended questions". From listening to some sales people you would think one type is divine while the other satanic. In some workshops, we see some folks stand up and brandish their devotion to open-ended questions, a sales talisman as it were. But this article is not about this, and we may take up the light and dark sides of this question in another article soon. More important is not the "type" of question, but how it is asked, and when it comes to that, the words used and the sequence are much more important than they "type". And that's where the two words discussed here become important.

Now how you ask a question and why, are far more important than if they are open or closed ended. So there you have them, the two words in question are: How and Why. Once you focus on understanding how a company does things, and why they do it that way, you will discover all the things you need to make a sale.

Lets cover off a couple of basics, first gone are the days when you can go in and ask what they do, with that information easily available on the web, just asking it puts you behind the curve. Same with sector specific trends, it takes literally seconds to get a handle on current trends, opportunities, threats etc. If you are talking to a manufacturer today in Southern Ontario you should be aware of the impact of a rising dollar, off-shore competitors, and what have you. With simple tools like Google News, or other more specific services, it is easy to find out what is keeping them awake at night, asking that is no longer impressive. The second is that many sales people are reluctant to ask pointed questions that go to the heart of the matter. But if you don't ask those questions you risk missing the opportunity that lays at the heart of the matter. If the question is there, ask it!

Once you start using how and why as your lead questions you will be able to fully understand what the client is thinking, what the opportunity is, and how you can help them succeed. Let's take a simple example, you know they are using a competitive product/service, most reps start positioning against the current provider. Many ask what they like about the current provider; some ask what improvements they would like to see if they could to the current product, hoping they will find that magical difference between the two products. Wouldn't you really rather know how they chose their current provider, allowing you to understand how they make decisions. Wouldn't you like to fully understand why they make decisions that way, in fact why they chose that specific provider over the others?

We recently worked with a service provider, every company uses this service, there are three of four competitors, and while under a microscope there may be discernible differences in their offerings, for the most part customers were making decisions based on price and emotion, (really mostly price). Interestingly enough we have worked with a couple of the leaders in this area, and similarity in their sales approach was clear before we got involved. There was no point in asking if they used the product, every business does, so they all started by asking who do you use? Then what kind of program/plan/service they were on? Then the invitation to talk PRICE: "what would it take to get you to look at our service instead?" Go on; guess what 90% of prospects said? Yup, "if we got a better price", goodbye margin hello false hope (that they will be loyal to you when the next lower number comes along).

To avoid this spiral, we got the team to start and steer the discussion in a different direction. Knowing that there was a 99.98% chance that the business already had a provider, (probably the third or fourth, each at a lower cost than the one before), we got them to start by asking why they are with the provider they are using (regardless of who it was); how they chose the current provider, what went in to the decision. What began to happen is people started talking about the service, which aspects were important to them, how they made the selection, and why they ultimately went with A over B. Lets be clear, price was always part of the picture, but rarely if ever the first. Rather than focusing on what 'we would have to do to get you to switch (switching's is always a pain), the discussion focused on things that were truly important to the prospect because we were getting to talk about how they make buying decisions, and why they choose to be where they are. Knowing those things we can position our service in a way that will make sense beyond price.

As always, asking why and how questions help you understand the individual you are working with, not just the organization, how they think, what may motivate them, and most importantly where they are in the decision hierarchy. We always hear from reps who are frustrated by the difficulty in finding the real decision maker, or spending time with someone who lead them to believe they were infact 'the' decision maker, who after having invested time and energy is not. Again, here asking how and why will reduce the stress and help you find the right decision maker. A long time ago we learned this simple sales equation:

How + Why = Who

If you know how a prospect organization makes decisions, you will inevitably learn who needs to be involved in that process, and what their role in the process is. So if the last five times they bought a service like yours, the person you are working with met with all the vendors, based on criteria from their boss, then introduced the top two vendors to the boss, who then chose the provider with input from the CFO, how likely is it that this time will be different? So by knowing how, you will also know who was really deciding. If you asked why at the end of the process they chose to go with their current provider, you will know who you have to engage, even if indirectly.

At it's core, the EDGE Sales Framework, is a method that strives to understand the clients'/prospects' objectives so you can better help them achieve their goals by using your product/service, and using the power of how and why as the heart of the discovery process, will ensure that you not only have a better understanding of what it will take to win, but a more engaged prospect. You will attain customers more willing to share greater insight based on your ability to solicit it, and help them benefit from it. So before you get hung up on open ended, closed ended, think about how and why your are asking the question to begin with.


Tibor Shanto is a recognized speaker, award winning author Shift!: Harness The Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers, and sought after trainer. Tibor is a Director of and a contributor to Sales Bloggers Union, and his work has appeared in numerous of publications and leading sales websites. A 25-year veteran of B2B sales in information, content management, and financial sectors, Tibor has developed an insider’s perspective on how information can be used to, shorte...

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