Some four intelligent questions to ask in a sales call

Letters of Credit concept and the inherent benefit to business growth

Sales profession is dynamic and there is no one size fit all approach in dealing with clients. I have had encounters with few colleagues in my business circle who are aspiring to become salespersons and those who are already in sales roles and consistently trying to meet sales targets. The fact is that Sales is not for everyone, much like any other occupation does not fit everyone. I can’t imagine being a medical doctor and coming in contact with blood in line with my duty.

Unless you have relevant sales experience, a great education, or are joining a very small sales company, you should expect to start your sales career off at the bottom of the pole. Meaning, you will probably start at an entry level sales position and starting at the very bottom means an opportunity to prove yourself and climb the corporate ladder. For others, starting at the bottom means that you will have to work twice as hard as anyone else on the sales team and probably will earn much less than a more tenured representative. Again, being in an entry-level position means that you should expect less autonomy and more micro-management in ensuring to meet targets.

I have spent 14years working in the financial sector. I have been driving sales within Transaction Banking business function for the last 10years and the last 4years in Client Coverage role with Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking. I have learnt some lessons on the journey which I want to share to inspire up and coming individuals who desirous of taking sales to the next level. Fortunately for me, in my early days of Corporate Sales, I was lucky enough to have astute sales managers like Sandra Asiedu, Kwame Asante, Angela Adu-Awuah and Frimpomaa Ntiforo-Agah. One lesson I picked from them was that, “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in those proportions“.

Even though many people see sales to be a daunting and difficult task, I have a firm belief that it actually is simple than imagined. At its simplest level, the act of selling is the act of exchanging one thing for another. It does not have to be about only money or goods. But what must always be present is an idea and the attention you ask of your audience to focus on that idea. Sales comes in different forms and some of the types include Transactional selling, Solution selling, Consultative selling, Provocative selling etc.

One approach which has personally helped me is the SPIN selling methodology. In driving a sales approach using this process, your key focus in interacting with clients should be positioned around Situation, Problem, Implication and Need pay-off (SPIN). The basic point as a sales person is to listen during a sales call much more than you talk and as a SPIN trained sales person, I will be sharing some nuggets with you.

“SPIN Selling” delivered the results of a huge 12 year study relating to how large sales were made. The extensive research by Rackham in 1998, and his company Huthwaite, examined more than 35,000 sales calls relating to large, complicated scenarios. It`s important to highlight that, it is not wise to follow a rigid system of selling; that’s just not the way it is in the world of selling, you need to maintain your flexibility. Rackham himself says in his books it is not wise to follow a rigid system of selling. That being said I shall now delve into the details.

# 1. Situation Questions.

This is where as a sales person, you seek to obtain facts from your client which will help you to uncover a context of your client (buyer) problem. The facts you obtain will eventually help you to be able to put forward a reasonable solution / proposal to your prospect. The mistake a lot of product sales personnel make is telling the clients of the  Thousand and One solutions without clearly identifying the client’s needs. That is not sales. Situation questions are beneficial to you a seller than the buyer. It is proven that the more situation questions in a call, the less likely that call was to succeed.

Some time ago, I went into a sales meeting with someone, the sales person started convincing the client, describing the features of a certain bank’s online banking functionalities. Even though, there could be the need, what was important was for the salesperson to enquire how the client processed their payments, be it Salaries, Vendor payments, Cheque Issuance etc. Did they even send their payment file to different commercial banks for processing or was it processed from a central source? A factual confirmation from the client could help to propose possible solutions. It`s always important to understand your client needs.

So planning situation questions ahead of your meeting with a client helps the client to see you as a problem solver rather than a prosecutor.  The right Situation Questions can lead smoothly and naturally into discussion about your prospect’s problems.

Focus must be given to “Low Risk” and “High Risk” questions to ask and the appropriate times to ask them. So,you need to ask more questions but asking too many situation questions reduces your chances of sales success. Conversely, the more focused questions are on a particular issue during a sales call the more likely a sale will be made.

#2. Problem Questions

After a client provides information based on the factual questions you ask, the next question is to focus on the Problem. I dare say that, for someone who is relatively new to selling, practising problem questions is probably the single most important thing that you can do to improve your sales results. For these types of questions, you want to enquire about the difficulties and dissatisfactions the client is experiencing and focus your client on this pain while clarifying the problem.

It should not be surprising that good sales people talk about problems. One well known sales trainer Tom Hopkins has said for years that if you are a professional sales person you are a PPS = Professional Problem Solver. It’s logical isn’t it? Because if everything is OK why would someone want to buy anything?

It is highly recommended that, after you identify a problem it’s important to continue revealing and clarifying the problem until you and the buyer share a thorough understanding of the problem

Your client will not buy from you as a salesperson because they understand the products but because they felt the salesperson understood their problems. It has been uncovered that top salespeople tend to introduce solutions, products or services very late in the discussion after they had understood the problem and uncovered Explicit Needs. You have to hold back and discuss the effects of the problem before talking about solutions. By so doing, you uncover several problems before asking implication questions.

#3. Implication Questions

Many sales call involves four key stages and the first two are opening and investigation.

As a sales person, being able to identify and asking Implication Questions are the most powerful sales questions unlike Problem Questioning skills. This is true because you are able to discuss the effects of the problem, and develop the seriousness of the problem to increase the client`s motivation to change their mind on your product. You have to practise them before talking about possible solutions. Questions about the effects of the consequences of the client’s problem identified are the Implication Questions.

Implication questions are powerful in the sense that they induce pain where it will give a client a cause to think. This will build the consequences of the clients problem and in so doing make the customer more anxious for a solution that will take the pain away, after all people buy when the pain of the problem is greater than the cost of the solution.

#4. Need-Payoff Questions

This is the last technique you require in your sales journey to become a professional salesperson. This type of question has a unique function because you get the customer to tell you about the benefits your solution offers rather than forcing you to explain the benefits.

Getting a client to talk about the benefits you offer is more impactful and seems a lot less pushy. It also has a tendency to reduce sales objections. And during the thinking process initiated by your needs payoff questions buyers often extend the payoff to new areas. Not only that but since they’ve thought of the payoffs the client become more committed to your solution since, they experience some sort of ownership. Note, more often than not, we get this wrong as salespersons however do note that selling is not about convincing buyer or a client but about creating the right conditions to allow client to convince themselves.

In conclusion, using the model is not a panacea for all your sales problems. As mentioned earlier you should be very familiar with the model so you can be flexible in using it because it’s not a cookie cutter approach to selling like following a checklist. It helps guide your thinking process as you approach clients to have conversations. The techniques shared really work but it’s harder to use than it seems. With adequate coaching and consistent practice however, a salesperson is sure to shine using this approach.

To sell well you must really plan well and be problem solving oriented. You have to believe it’s more important to understand than to persuade. Always remember that many objections may occur in the sales process because the seller offered a solution too soon. A client will object to your sales where the client raises doubts about the worth of your solution or where the seller raises doubts as to whether the product will solve their problem or whether you can deliver on the promise. Go out there and change your sales conversations.                      

Thank you for reading.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are personal views and doesn’t represent that of the media house or institution the writer works.

Credit Mrs Miriam Amoako, Spin selling, Rahman 1998

About the writer

Carl  is a Banking, Finance, and Investment professional. Director and Country Head, Client Coverage of an International Bank in Sierra Leone. Contact:  [email protected], Cell: +232 240 467

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