Question and Control!
If there is only one thing you'll take away from this series it should be the importance of asking questions. As a consultant (as opposed to a call center agent) you want to make the conversation about the customer and not about yourself. You can easily do this by asking questions.
This works at every single stage of the sales process: whether you are calling someone up to schedule an appointment or conducting a product demo or following up, you can think of great questions to ask to make your job easier. It also helps no matter who you are talking to, whether it’s the gatekeeper or its an influencer or its the decision maker!
It seems human beings have been trained to answer questions and it has somehow become part of our behavior. Try this out: wear a watch and keep your smartphone in your hand and walk into any room with people in it and ask “Hey what is the time?”. I can guarantee the question will distract almost everyone from what they were doing, some people might fumble around and at least one person will answer you (despite the fact that they can see you are wearing a watch and have a smartphone so can easily check the time yourself).
Think back to when you were in school and the teacher asked a question. If you knew the answer you were probably eager to answer it but if you didn’t know the answer odds are you were secretly hoping the teacher doesn’t pick you. No matter which category you fell in, that is the power of asking questions: it forces the other person to at least pay attention and think about you. And of course you want your prospects and customers to think about you :)
But that is not the only advantage of asking questions. The main advantage, at least in terms of sales, is that the person asking the questions is the one controlling the conversation. And a good sales person always controls the conversation! Look at both the examples above, the person asking the question is the one in control right?
If you think about it, sales is all about control and manipulation. People think manipulation is a bad thing but it is not, in fact it is a widely accepted aspect of human behavior. We are not talking about the harmful kind of manipulation that you see in movies but the common kind like when a child throws a tantrum to get some ice cream, when you compliment someone because you want to ask them out later, when you are nice to your parents because you want to stay out late that night - these are all examples of controlling the situation to achieved the desired goal.
So if you are calling to schedule an appointment or a demo then getting the prospect to agree is your goal. From the start of the call to the end of the call you need to be the one in control not just by asking questions but also by thinking ahead about what the answers will be and using them to your advantage.
There are many types of questions that lead to many types of answers. Closed-ended questions and open ended questions. Opening questions, qualifying questions and closing questions. We don't need to get into all of these right now but the important thing is that you use questions to control the conversation and predict what the answer is. Please note that this does not mean you turn the conversation into an interview or an interrogation. We need to keep the conversation natural and casual.
For example: if you ask someone "Hey have you ever implemented a system that helps you with XYZ?" please expect that the answer could range from “Yes” to “No” to a variety of responses that could range from competitors, to pricing, to bad experience to lack of time or even no interest. In short prepare for possible answers and use them to your advantage to control the questions. If you are ready for the curve balls you can easily dodge them :)
As a short exercise for yourself, make a list of ten questions that you can ask your prospects or customers. Try to think which questions you would ask at the start of a conversation and which ones you would ask towards the end. What do you think the answers to these questions could be? Can you use the answers to your advantage? Discuss these questions and answers with a colleague or your manager. The best part is there are no wrong questions so there’s no need to worry. Your ability to ask the right (relevant) questions will quickly get better with time!