I was on a sales call, talking with a sales manager at a high-tech firm that sold a highly specialized, niche product. Things were progressing smoothly and I seemed to have exactly what he was looking for regarding a training workshop he was looking to conduct.
And then he asked:
“Who else have you worked with that sells a similar product to us?”
Now, I’ve done over 1,200 training programs over the past 27 years, and have worked in virtually every industry and sales model there is … but not this one. I doubted if there was a company that sold a similar product.
I could have begun babbling some half-baked answer about companies I’ve worked with and tried to force a comparison, but I would not have sounded like a suave, polished professional. More like a bumbling fool.
So instead, I paused, took a moment to reflect — and realized that I had no idea how important the question was to him. So I responded with, “Are you asking if I’ve worked with a similar prospecting model to yours, selling to similar decision makers? And, how much of an issue is that for you?”
To which he replied, “Oh, I know there aren’t many companies like ours. I was just curious. You seem to have what we want.”
There’s a valuable sales lesson embedded in this experience.
Have you ever had a buyer ask you an extremely technical or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary question early in the information-gathering phase? How about an outrageous request regarding capabilities or service?
I often see reps stumble all over themselves in these scenarios, because they don’t know the answer to the question, or are unable to provide the requested service. They apologize and make excuses and in some cases reduce themselves to babbling fools because they assumed that what the prospect was asking for was a solid requirement.
But before you try to come up with any sort of answer, think: Why did the buyer ask this question in the first place? On occasion, they might be sincerely concerned and interested in your ability to provide a given service, or to meet a certain unusual technical requirement. In other cases, they might be using tactics to belittle your service, get you off the phone, or achieve something else entirely.
To determine the precise motivation behind the question or request, you need to ask “check questions.” Check questions help you to gauge how important the information is to the buyer, and their response dictates with how much importance and urgency you should prepare your answer.
Prospect: “Does it come with a left-handed gold-plated adapter with an experience rating of 99.99%?”
Salesperson: “Hmm. Will that be a major concern of yours in the decision making process?”
After your “check question,” you’ll need to be prepared for the possible answers. In many cases, the buyer will say, “Not really; I was just curious,” which means you can likely gloss over the request. On the other hand, if they answer that the information will be important in their decision, you’ll want to ask more questions to determine just how critical the request is, and to help you figure out how to best respond.
Here are some other examples of “check questions:”
- “How often do you run into those type of situations?”
- “How often do you need that type of service?”
- “Wow! Just out of curiosity, how are you going to use that information?”
- “What will you be comparing those figures to?”
By using check questions, you’ll be able to sort out the sincere requests from the rest.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Smart Calling Online and is republished here with permission.