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To Find Problems, You Must Trigger Problems

The following are some of the problem prompters I use for my company. You will notice the questions are frequently framed in hypothetical language and there is an effort to bring balance to the questions. Questions hypothetically posed tend to be less direct and intimidating. Also, the questions generally have a strong emotional appeal as opposed to an ineffective rational appeal.

Some questions are formulated in a positive light to underscore the gap between what the prospect says is good and what a good situation truly looks like. You’ll also notice that in some cases, there are multiple follow-up questions on the main problem points to go deeper in order to expose denial or to uncover problems that the prospect never thought they had. The idea is to be prepared to keep your prospect engaged and have enough ammo in your arsenal to follow up with deeper questions to dent your prospect’s armor.

These problem prompter questions and statements are designed for scenarios where your prospect tells you they have no problems or no interest and you want to confirm or challenge that notion with thought-provoking questions to find or create problem. Here are some examples:

  • Are you running into challenges where your salespeople are all running around in many different directions without any unified sales strategy making it difficult to control, monitor and lead your sales team and making it difficult to predict and forecast revenue consistently?

    *Do you help them manage their pipelines on deals they’re closing?

    *Do they have the same criteria as you?

    *Do you have a systematic sales strategy and process that they can properly execute beyond order entry?

    *Do you have monthly strategy sessions beyond administrative and moaning sessions, where you review new industries, markets, and how to penetrate higher levels in organizations?

  • The sales group is a mystery. All the other departments are easier to hold accountable and manage but sales continues to lag behind the rest of the company.
  • They don’t know if they have the right people to get them to the next level. They aren’t all hitting their numbers consistently, and they don’t know who to change and who to upgrade.

    *Do you use a commission based compensation program as your main management tool and then try to traffic manage your people?

    *It sounds like you have an active recruiting plan, where you are not held hostage to your salespeople.

    *You have a "no excuse" environment. You take total responsibility and you don’t blame your salespeople for shortcomings.

  • At some point in your career you were the best salesperson and you moved into sales management where you’ve become a competent sales administrator. You manage information well, and do a good job of putting out fires, but don’t do as good of a job challenging developing, motivating, counseling, coaching, and leading your people.

    *It sounds like your people are very motivated and goal directed and focused.

    *I assume you have a defined sales plan which the salespeople help developed based on how much money they want to make, what their personal goals are, what revenue goals they are going to commit to and the activity needed to accomplish those goals?

    *I assume you actively hold them accountable?

    *Do you have a specific plan for new business generation and a separate plan for account development with existing accounts?

    *Do you know the percentage necessary for calls, quotes and closing rate?

    *Do you spend an average of 1 to 2 days in the field coaching your people each week?

    *In other words, you’ve got goals, they’ve got goals, and they are in sync?

  • It’s been a tough last couple of years for most companies with the economy and most are starting to see things heating up again. But from a motivation perspective they are in a rut where they’ve been doing the same old things, the same old ways and expecting different results. Their sales team is lacking energy and innovation. Are you experiencing this?
  • Do your people ever feel used and frustrated and out of control in the selling process where the prospect holds all the cards, calls all the shots, and it starts to affect their motivation, ultimately taking an emotional toll out of them and consequently de-motivating them?

    *They don’t suffer call reluctance or inconsistency in performance… lots of peaks and valleys?

    *Do they ever return from calls triumphantly, all enthusiastic and convinced they’ve made a sale, only to find out they were being used?

    *Are they very good at qualifying accounts, knowing when to fold or hold?

    *Are they very good at sizing up opportunities, where they know if they have live deals or not? Do they do their due diligence by finding out what problems the prospect has, the costs and consequences of those problems and their willingness to change? Do they know their prospect’s budget, understand the decision making process and know the timing of the deal?

  • I sometimes hear complaints from owners like yourself who tell me their salespeople sell well only as long as the economy is strong, but suffer when there is any downturn. Is that a concern here at all?
  • They’re technically adept and very knowledgeable about your products, but do they too often get reduced to free consultants who aren’t paid and rewarded for their ideas and efforts?
  • Do your salespeople get beaten up on price where they’re constantly cutting prices at the cost of lower margins and they’re frequently battling differentiating themselves from their competition and trying to prevent commoditization?
  • Their salespeople are doing well by default because the company is well positioned in the marketplace, the economy is improving, the company has an excellent reputation and product line that is the envy of the industry, good pricing, lots of leads that you pay for, and the salespeople have been in their territories for a long time. In other words, they are succeeding primarily because they are riding on the coattails of a successful company and they are not proportionately carrying their weight
  • They are successful, but they are over relying on selling transactionally (onezies, twozies) at low margins. They aren’t getting enough long term, strategic, profitable, major account business. They struggle selling high in their accounts and they don’t sell deep, getting add on business.

    *You must have very strategic sellers that have healthy selling cycles and reasonably low costs of sales. You must have a healthy mix of business that covers your whole product or service offering, leaving very few holes in your sales strategy?

  • They are selling the wrong mixture of accounts. They are in a comfort zone and spend too much time on small accounts where they are liked, and aren’t selling high in the organization where they can build longer-term relationships that are more profitable.
  • They succeed at the expense of the company because they’ve been in the territory a long time. They have a few plum accounts that they rest their laurels on, but they aren’t growing their account base and bringing in new business. They are gliding and retiring on the job and living off the fat of past successes at your expense.
  • They are disproportionately successful because they rely on management to qualify their deals and help them close their big deals, consequently eating up a lot of management time and company resources, while at the same time, getting full credit and commission.
  • They are excuse makers; always blaming the economy, competition, pricing, your products and not taking personal responsibility for their results and hence, are difficult to manage and lead.

It’s difficult to implement this selling process; you will probably experience a lot of problems and challenges yourself in learning it. However, this will result in even more empathy with your prospects.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com