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Ask 'why' five times
This is the method Taiichi Ohno, pioneer of Toyota production systems, recommended to get to the root cause of a problem. My thought was that this principle could serve well in sales. In specific, it can be used to find out whether an opportunity exists and if it is real and worth your while to win.
I am aware that good sales people know the power of questioning buyers over providing them with a laundry list of features and benefits. The ability to ask pertinent questions comes from preparation. Preparation is more than amassing information. I suggest using this method of asking why 5 times during preparation to have a better focused approach.
I assume that every salesperson has a list of potential targets, maybe not explicitly documented, but such a list exists nonetheless. The following questions can help you prioritise targets.
What does my target want to buy?
If you don’t have the answer after research and reflection of the target’s viewpoint, this indicates that the target is not likely to be a valid prospect to spend further time on right now.
Why does the target need my help to buy?
Give yourself an honest answer. If you come to the conclusion that target does not require much help, this prevents you from spending too much time on deals that will happen anyway. If you found a reason, go to the next step.
Why should the target buy from you?
This will help you find qualitative elements for a value hypothesis and address emotional aspects. Even in B2B, emotions are involved. The main purpose of this question is to find the rational reason for the decision. Be sure to focus this question on the customer’s viewpoint.
Why should the target spend the money you ask for?
This helps you find the quantitative side of the rational reason.
All the questions above must be answered with the buyer’s perspective in mind. Note that the answers you construct are mere hypotheses which must be confirmed during your meeting. The final question focuses on you as the sales person.
Why should you deal with your target?
Answer this question from your viewpoint, to remove the risk of getting stuck with ‘bad business’ and regretting the deal. It also helps you justify closing this deal should management questions the profitability of the prospect.
Having the answers to these questions does not mean you are ready to pitch. It simply means you are better armed to have a conversation which enhances your credibility in the eyes of the prospect.
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Christian Maurer is a Paris-based independent Consultant, Trainer and Coach who helps B2B organizations increase their sales productivity by improving Sales and Marketing Effectiveness. He is a member of Top Sales Experts (www.topsalesexperts.com), an accredited Funnel Coach with MathMarketing and is the author of the blog “The Ultimate Sales Executive Resource” (http://ultimatesalesexecresource.blogspot.com). For comments, feedback and enquiries, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org