Here's how it works: we spend hours working up a sales proposal, bolstered by our own expertise, facts, research and opinions from other smart people.
Maybe we spend more hours writing a document or the ubiquitous Death by PowerPoint presentation, with graphs, and exhibits. Perhaps two or three other people in our organization look at our work, give us their received wisdom, and we rewrite it maybe two-three times, more if it's for a big contract.
Then we present it.
So let's suppose someone in the audience at your presentation disagrees with you. Do we engage in a thoughtful exchange of views? Heck no! We argue the point with the customer, in effect telling him or her how wrong they are, and how right we are, because we have so much invested in our proposal we can't give up being right.
When was the last time you spent a lot of money with someone who told you how wrong you were about your own business?
I'm with an old boss of mine who said, "Let's be wrong all the way to the bank." Let's give up being right, and start focusing on winning the order.
Here's how: be curious! Don't tell, ask. People do business with people they know, like and trust - and who better than someone who's so interested in your point of view he or she gets you talking about it?
Here are some questions people have found provocative, enlightening, and winning:
Open-ended probes that earn you the right to probe further
· Run me through your thinking on this
· How did we get to these assumptions?
· Tell me more about how you (moved from these facts to your conclusions)
· When you said... did you mean...?
· What's the most significant issue you currently face?
· What would you like to accomplish with this (program, idea, information)?
· To what extent is (growth, budget, deadlines, staffing) important?
· What other challenges do you foresee?
· How do you calculate (how much money being late is costing you)?
· How does (system downtime) affect (your customers)?
· What would happen if (worst case scenario)?
Closed ended probes that demonstrate your competence
Asking intelligent and relevant questions tells clients you offer a higher level of competence, credibility and value. Prove you are an expert the customer can trust by asking technically demanding questions. As a marketing professional, I might ask:
· If you compare the top 20% of your revenue and profit to the bottom 20%:
o What accounts for the top 20%? Your bottom 20%?
o How do your distribution and associated costs compare?
o How does the buyer for the top 20% differ from the buyer from the bottom 20%?
· Describe your cost structure for each segment
You've find good reading on this subject in Secrets of Question Based Selling by Thomas A. Freese.