Every sales professional knows that the initial customer meetings are extremely important in qualifying the opportunity, scoping out the work and differentiating one’s offering. During the initial meeting (s) is when the seller needs to build trust & credibility and get the prospect to open up and talk about his/her business. Done properly the seller can lead the meeting and guide the conversation to where it matters by asking the right questions at the right times. This is not an easy job.
On a side note, When it comes to customer discovery and building value via asking the right questions (Challenger questions) I think SPIN methodology is still the best methodology around. It gives the person an easy and effective framework to ask intelligent, thought provoking and relevant questions without the need to know a lot about the other party’s business or industry.
In a recent project I was reminded of one of the common miscalculations sales executives often make when they set out to ask questions and identify opportunities with a prospect. Let me illustrate the point by laying out the scenario:
I was riding shotgun in one of my client’s sales meetings. This was the first meeting with the prospect and I was there just to observe the sales executive (let’s call him Bob). We met the COO and the HR head and after the initial introductions and small talk Bob started his customer discovery questions. After a few general ones Bob asked a question that on the surface seemed to be a valid and timely question. However, after the meeting in our one-on-one discussion he came to realize it was the kind of question that could hurt the opportunity in the long run.
The question that Bob asked the prospect was “What are the current initiatives you are driving now?” this is actually a good question to ask and certainly could shed light on the prospect’s needs and priorities. However, the challenge with these type of questions, where you ask about prospect’s existing projects without pre-determined discovery roadmap, are two folds:
- Limit your scope: The risk of asking questions about existing initiatives without sufficient preparation is that if there are initiatives that align with the sales rep’s offering, the rep is more likely to want to dig in and learn more about those initiatives at the expense of all other client challenges, especially the undiscovered ones. This could result in the rep going down a rabbit hole that he may not be able to get out of. And this is what happened with Bob.
Since one of prospect’s initiatives could be partly addressed with one of Bob’s solutions, he got excited to find a common ground and he started to ask questions almost exclusively about the project, timeline, budget…etc. and he stopped digging for other potential gaps/challenges and stopped uncovering recognized and unrecognized needs. When Bob found out that the client was already talking to vendors and getting close to a decision, Bob (rightly so) tried to get his foot in the door and started pitching. This lead to the second challenge…
- Put you at a competitive disadvantage: When an organization tells you that they already have an initiative running, it usually means that they are already talking to other vendors and in fact they may be in final stages of selecting a solution. I have seen a study that found the first vendor has a big advantage over late arrivals. So this means if the prospect shares with you an existing initiative where you are late to the party, you have less chances of winning.
Please don’t misunderstand my point. I am not saying you should not ask about existing initiatives or you should not try to win deals when you arrive late to the game. But you should be clear about the purpose of your discovery meeting & questioning , have a roadmap of where you want to take the conversation and avoid getting sidetracked.
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About the author:
Mark Ghaderi is an international revenue growth consultant, author, sales coach, mentor, entrepreneur and social selling evangelist with twenty five years of driving business results across the globe.
Vital Strategies Pte Ltd. Provides Revenue Growth Services to companies across the APAC region, helping organizations to grow their top line through digital transformation, improving sales execution & leverage Customer Success to grow revenue across the entire customer lifecycle.
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