Shakespeare in sales!

If Shakespeare was around today and was a B2B sales professional then he might use the phrase ‘To question or question, that is the question’. Bear with me on this one, despite the confusing version of this famous line this is all about effective B2B sales questioning.

Good selling is all about good questions, right? Well, yes and no. We’ve been taught for a long time now to ask the right questions, but without context and without unbiased intent then they serve no positive purpose for your prospects.

We’re taught to uncover their needs, understand their problems and pain points as well as business challenges and whilst the discipline of doing this amongst the B2B sales community is still not as widespread as it should be, those that do generally just ‘question’ their prospects. They have a predetermined list of questions that are focused on gathering information that will benefit the seller and position the results that their proposition will provide.

Biased questions

The problem with these sorts of information based questions is that they are biased to extract specific responses. Guess what, buyers see through them after the many wear and tear engagements with sales people over the years. They’re now conditioned to expect them. This makes sales people predictable. Which means that the questions they ask have become predictable. Buyers are easily turned off with predictable, this type of approach will generate resistance and not influence change.

You need to spice up the conversations and be unpredictable. You need to ask questions that seek to enable the buyers to change themselves and discover their own answers. The skill is making buyers feel part of the process not the subject of the process. In today’s market selling is all about change management. The majority of opportunities are created to change from what exists to what is needed to generate improvement.

So, change is the key word here, and as research shows the biggest competitor for all salespeople is ‘No Decision’, the prospects stay with the status quo.

What causes this? Well that’s simple, in the majority of cases it’s because salespeople have failed to convince the prospects of the need, urgency or benefits of change. The easiest decision for any buyer is the no decision. This is often the outcome of poor questions that are clearly biased towards an orchestrated result.

I’m not saying that questions that are information driven should be avoided, they are still an essential part of the fact finding that will enable sales professionals to build a picture, but in my view, they shouldn’t be on the ‘first date’, take the time to get to know someone before such direct advances! As the old doctor adage goes, look at the symptoms before you make a diagnosis and before recommending a remedy.

Most questions asked by sellers are contrived and biased based on the seller seeking a specific type of response and already having the answers. Selling should be a collaboration between buyer and seller from which the outcome should be mutually beneficial. Anything contrived serves one party, the seller.

So, back to Mr Shakespeare and the alternative variation of his line. Rather than bombard prospects with contrived and unbiased questions, use the opportunity to get them ‘to question’ the status quo themselves.

Information based questioning

Let me put some context around this and maybe it will become clearer.

Every day I talk to sales leaders about their CRM challenges, if it was just about questions then it would be focused on what they like, what they don’t like, usage, uptake, usage resistance, user management, features, reporting and so on, all very factual that rely on the users to generate responses to information based questions.

We all know that Salesforce is unquestionably the powerhouse of the industry and probably every other sales prospect I speak with uses it. But this is not about the advantages or disadvantages of CRM, or the benefits of one CRM vendor over another. We don’t sell CRM or sell against Salesforce, I’m just using this as an example because it relates to my daily sales engagements and how I choose to interact with prospects.

However, if I was a competitive CRM vendor and wanted to displace the incumbent then the traditional and conventional form of information questions could start with ‘Why do you use CRM X’? This is a clearly a biased question where the seller hopes to use the answer as a springboard into their nicely prepared pitch about how they are better.

There’s a problem with this sort of information question in that it only extracts historic data. This will be from the respondent’s memory according to the needs of the seller. There’s a chance that this may cause the prospect to defend past decisions. Remember in many sales situations the prospect will not recognise they have a real problem or maybe even the magnitude of the problem and how it may impact their business now or in the future.

Alternative questioning

A great alternative ‘to question’ approach would go something like ‘How would you know if your CRM is helping your sales people’?

Or ‘How would you know if it was time to reconsider your CRM solution’?

This is a far more helpful question due to the choice of words ‘how’ ‘know’ ‘if’ ‘time’ ‘reconsider’. They are far less likely to generate resistance or a defensive stance. That’s because they are directed at previous decisions with a view to considering change and obligations. What also helps with your buyer engagements is that neither of them attacks current or previous decisions. Predictable sales people unfortunately use information questions that do exactly that.

So, the take away from this article is if you want to have more productive engagements with buyer teams and you want to reduce the number of no decision deals then move away from B2B sales questioning designed to direct contrived change, because they inevitably create resistance. ‘To question’ will facilitate discovery, which will improve the chances of buy-in and hopefully participation.

Check out my blog 3 Things to understand in complex sales

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