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December 30, 2015 // 7:30 AM

5 Critical Questions Salespeople Should Answer Before Buyers Even Ask

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There are hundreds of sales questions a good salesperson might ask in trying to understand a prospective buyer -- questions to establish core challenges, get a sense of budget, gauge the level of urgency, and so on. But salespeople aren’t the only ones who should be vetting contacts by asking questions up front.

Buyers should likewise invest some energy in qualifying you (or your sales force), to determine if you are the right sales representative. He or she should be using you to extract important information and market intelligence. For these reasons, an astute buyer should have his own checklist of sales questions -- and you should encourage them.

Of course, you can’t very well instruct a prospect on how to conduct his buying process, but you can get better at opening up your sales conversations. You can encourage dialogue that supports both of your fact-finding agendas, while building trust and confidence along the way.

Where to start? On your next sales call, try steering the exchange toward these five buyer-based sales questions.

1) What’s your background in XYZ industry?

A knowledgeable salesperson can be a tremendous asset to someone who has to make or explain major business purchases. And in fact, most salespeople -- particularly in today’s technology markets -- are well-established industry experts. Meanwhile, the average CEO hasn’t left his role in 10 years and IT executives average more than six years in one place -- enough time to lose sight of the big picture outside their organizations. Taking time for a sales call with a rep who holds relevant degrees, who participates in relevant associations, and who has maybe even held executive roles in a past life is an easy way for buyers to keep tabs on the market and maintain perspective.

So how do you, as the salesperson, cultivate an “expert” reputation? First, you should expect to be screened and vetted. You should also self-Google: critique your LinkedIn profile, your company bio, and your full online presence from the point of view of a potential client. Showcase your expertise, and then invite buyers to look you up.

2) Who are your main competitors, and what do they do differently?

Smart buyers will ask questions about competitors, and judge how forthcoming you’re willing to be. Show them you’re not afraid to acknowledge -- or even praise -- quality offerings from other organizations. Be honest in terms of how confident you are that your solution is uniquely well-suited, and verbalize the upsides for you in only working with clients who can gain real benefits. When prospects hear (and believe) that you’re prepared to self-eliminate if the deal is not a good fit, they’re more likely to help you weigh that fit from their end.

3) What about the other ways to solve this problem?

In most cases, the product/service you’re selling isn’t the first and only approach to handling a specific business challenge. Some of your buyers may be using or exploring other alternatives. It’s your job to cover all the angles: pros, cons, and personal experiences related to each. And again, if the buyer isn’t asking, it’s your job to provide context.

4) How is your company doing?

Do buyers buy from companies or from salespeople? The short answer is: it depends. So it’s smart to prepare for the reality that no matter what you say, your odds of closing are only as good as your company profile.

Prepare for direct questions about your company (How fast are you growing? What kind of revenue do you pull in?) If you’re ready to speak with passion and substance about why you joined forces with ABC organization, you can build a buyer’s esteem for your company as well as for your own personal brand.

5) Who are your other clients?

The appeal of client success stories is rooted in evolutionary psychology. Buyers love to hear what other people in their community are doing. It’s part of the survival instinct; it’s how humans gather the information they need to protect themselves, and to succeed by example. Just mention a familiar company that has made big gains thanks to your product, and watch your buyer’s ears perk up.

No case studies or testimonials on hand? That doesn’t necessarily mean your sales pitch is sunk. When selling to early adopters, you can often earn the social proof you need by referencing other types of connections. For example, maybe your company’s founders hail from MIT, or perhaps your product development team cut its teeth at Apple.

Of course, most prospects aren’t going to answer the phone with these five questions in hand. It’s your job to facilitate their part of the exchange, and answer these questions before they're asked. An effective sales strategy is about stimulating an open, two-way business conversation -- one that builds relationships and reputations in the long run.

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Topics: Sales Qualification

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