By Ryan Warren, Vice President of Market Development
The cardinal rule of sales should be: Don’t irritate your prospects! It doesn’t matter whether a potential buyer could use your services or not. If they cultivate a strong dislike for you during the pitch, they’re unlikely to go with the company you represent. Sometimes when you’re under pressure to close, you might phrase questions inappropriately, leading to the disdain of the people you’re trying to impress. Avoid ruining the outcome of the sale before you’ve even begun. To start out, here are a few questions you should avoid asking:
- “Are you the decision-maker?”
You want to make sure you’re not wasting your time with someone who doesn’t impact the purchasing decision. But the truth is, even if the final decision isn’t theirs, they can be a good bridge to someone who will make the final choice. Use this question and your prospect will see right through you. As Geoffrey James puts it in the Salesforce blog, when you ask this question you’re implying your contact is “some flunky gatekeeper who needs to be schmoozed.”Instead, you may want to dispense with the term “decision maker” altogether. James suggests asking instead, “who are the stakeholders?” Without bluntly questioning where the prospect falls in the chain of command, you can get an idea of who else you should talk to before closing the deal. Another idea, according to the Sales Excellence blog, is to ask “Once you make your decision, what are the next steps?” This will also give you a better understanding of the buying process.
- “Would you agree that…?”
This is a leading question that could immediately cause your prospect to bristle. The idea is to make them say yes to something small so they will be more likely to say yes to buying. Unfortunately, your contact has probably heard this ancient selling technique hundreds of times, so it will only put them on the defensive. Instead, try a more open question like “what are your priorities around…?” Ask questions that lead to a legitimate discussion. Let go of the seller-buyer dichotomy and you’re more likely to influence your potential client.
- “If we could save you money, would you be interested?”
Once again, you’re using a manipulative tactic and dangling the carrot in front of the horse. You’re obviously hoping to hook the prospect into a longer conversation, but this question is actually extremely vague, and needs to be more targeted to the prospective company in order to be useful. According to Colleen Stanley for Customer Think blog, it may be better to say, “let’s you and I crunch some numbers together to see if the cost savings add up to enough dollars to even consider making a move.” This way, you’re communicating to the prospect that you understand they have individual needs and offering a one-size-fits-all solution may not benefit them.
- Any question you should already know the answer to
While making this kind of blunder may not send up a red flag as quickly as the first three, lack of research won’t get you ahead. To establish yourself as not just a salesperson, but a valuable informational resource, you’ll want to know as much as possible about your potential buyer’s market. Customer analytics can provide an in depth background on where your buyer is coming from. It can help you anticipate their needs, which will help you ask the right questions. Knowing your customers before engaging in the sales pitch is the smartest thing a salesperson can do.
Do your research, avoid provoking clients, and encourage conversation rather than being pushy, and you’re likely to win the confidence of your prospective buyers.