I have written dozens of useful how-to lessons for driving sales, but perhaps none is more important than this one. This is the day that you learn that driving sales has very little to do with what YOU have to say. And, it is everything to do with what YOUR CLIENT has to say. The magic sauce to closing the transaction is knowing how to ask probing questions, sit back and LISTEN. Keeping your mouth shut is typically a really hard concept for a salesperson to grasp. But, if they do, jewels of insights and real pain points of your customers will quickly surface to the top the more THEY talk.
Your Product Is Less Important Than Solving Painpoints
A salesperson’s first instinct is to pull out a demo of their product and start talking about all the bells and whistles built into the features and functionalities of that product. [Insert Yawn!] First of all, you never lead with the “what”, you always lead with the “why” your product can help them to drive more revenues, cost savings, customer experience improvements or whatever. But, more importantly, you should never blindly open the pitch until you know exactly what your client’s pain points are.
Identify Your Client’s Painpoints
In order to learn your client’s pain points, you have to start by asking them what they think their pain points are. In some cases, the client’s will know exactly what they are trying to improve in their business, as it relates to your product. But, in many other cases, your client will not even know they have a problem, and you will need to educate them on the problem they have. But, be sensitive to the fact many customers will not want to admit they have a problem, keeping their cards close to their chest for negotiating advantages. So, it is up to you, to tease it out of them.
Ask Probing Questions
A good salesperson knows how to ask the right questions, that will help them get to the meat of learning their client’s real pain points. Sometimes you can tackle the question head on, like “tell me more about what you don’t like about your current product?” Then, when ready, focus your pitch specifically around those elements they most care about.
But, sometimes you need to get to the answer through the back door, instead of the front door. Maybe questions like “can you tell me more about your conversion rate you are seeing with your current tool, as I can help you benchmark that to what I am seeing with our other clients”. That one question may go in many directions: (1) they may not know their conversion rate (pain point #1); (2) they will certainly be curious what their peers are achieving, in comparison to themselves (pain point #2); and (3) any smart manager will want to learn how to improve their business if they are lagging behind (pain point #3).
Either way, the more probing questions you ask, the more intelligence you gain to craft a perfect pitch that exactly meets your client’s needs, and the more learnings you can pass back to the product development team, for them to build additional features into your product, that can help next year’s upsell with that client.
A Case Study
I was working with a social media listening company. This was a relatively new industry, compared to old school market research based on human focus groups. The sales team needed to help educate and entice their clients with questions like: (1) did you even know you could glean market research intelligence from social media; (2) would you be interested in listening to billions of social media conversations, to bubble up the three most important insights your customers are saying about your brand, versus asking the 100 people in face-to-face focus groups with expensive travel costs to ten different cities; and (3) did you know you are spending $1MM a year on traditional market research, and we can get you 10x better insights for only 10% of the price? Not once did I say: look at this cool feature or functionality of our product, or pull out my demo. You get to that later, after they are already drinking the Kool Aid at the strategic, higher level, and then you set the hook with the product.
If you jump right into pitching your product, your odds of closing the sale are going to materially decrease. Why? Because you have no idea yet, what your client actually needs. I argue you should not even pitch your product at all in the first meeting. Build a relationship with them first, asking the key questions, learn their pain points, and THEN set up a second meeting that specifically addresses their most pressing needs. This way, your odds of closing the sale will materially increase. The biggest mistake most entrepreneurs have is having “diarrhea of the mouth”, when it comes to peddling their product. All that does is put your customers to sleep in that first meeting. And, that first meeting is the most important, to making sure you get the next meetings and the sale! So, the next time you want to open your mouth in a first sales meeting—it better be asking questions and not pitching products.