You Must Dig Below Face Value to Break Free From Commoditization

Posted by Doug Davidoff

Sep 3, 2013 7:50:00 AM

question-the-answer-604x272Last month I shared five attributes that are critical in understanding the difference between successful salespeople and those who are average and struggle.  Today I’d like to give an example of how the difference plays out.

It is certainly not a new idea that effective salespeople need to ask good questions; however, I’ve learned the art of asking questions is not the key difference in success.  Rather, it’s what happens after the question is answered.

About 60% of salespeople simply accept the answer that is given, about 30% will clarify the answer to ensure they understand what is being said; but only about 10% of salespeople do the right thing:  they question the answer that is given.

As I’ve shared before, you can break down all information and knowledge from a prospect/customer into three levels.  Successful salespeople dig deep and lead their customer/prospect to level three by asking questions, and then questioning the answer they are given.

When a customer/prospect says, “It is important that we maximize the results from this initiative, as it’s central to the direction of this firm,” 90% of salespeople will feel as though they’ve hit gold.  They’ll leave the interaction thinking that price won’t be an issue, and that when they wow them with their presentation the deal will be sealed.  Most salespeople will start spending the commission.

The really good ones, the 10%, realize that the answer is merely a starting point and that their job has just begun.  They’ll realize that the answer is extraordinarily vague and provides little insight or advantage into the process.  For example:

    • They’ll know that maximize results means nothing.  They’ll seek to clarify what maximize means, and maximize relative to what?
    • They’ll break down what the initiative is, specifically how it will impact the company and the consequences of the initiative failing.
    • They’ll spend a significant amount of time gaining an understanding of the direction of the firm, and will provide unique insights into that direction.
    • They gain background into what the company has done already, what it’s planning on doing and the alternatives that they’re considering.

And from there, they’ll question the answers to that.  It is this type of experience that creates a real value in the sales process, and drives a clear difference between the seller and their competitors.

Now, let’s circle back to the five attributes that I referred to in my previous post and I’ll highlight why they are so important to be able to implement this type of approach successfully.

1.  They hate to lose more than they enjoy winning.

    • If I enjoy winning, the initial answer creates and endorphin rush.  I’ll actually think that I’ve won, and won’t push the answer for fear that I might lose the win.
    • If I hate losing more than I enjoy winning, I’ll push on the answer.  For the pain of possibly missing something (and therefore losing) will dominate my thinking and will force me to overcome the fear of risking it.

2.  They are comfortable with uncertainty.

    • This is a big one.  It is the fear of uncertainty that will both prevent me from questioning the answer (for that will only create more uncertainty), but it will also prevent me from even seeing the vagueness of the answer to begin with.
    • When comfortable with uncertainty I will both see how vague the response is, and will have no fear digging deeper.

3.  They are curious.

    • If I’m not curious, I won’t be prompted to question an answer that has the customer/prospect so confident.
    • If I’m curious I’ll naturally ask a lot more valuable questions.

4.  They have command.

    • The ability to question answers requires that a salesperson be able to control the process without being controlling.

5.  They have business acumen.

    • The reality is that if I don’t have adequate business acumen I’ll neither know what questions to ask, how to tell if the answer I’m given is adequate, nor what to do with the adequate information when I’m given it.

The ability to effectively question the answer is a critical skill inherent in every top salesperson.  The skill can be learned, so long as the time is spent to build the capabilities discussed above.  More importantly, the failure to take this approach means longer cycle time, lower win rates and lots of confusion and complexity in the future.


Topics: B2B Sales Strategy