We try to call sales a lot of different things, but really it’s about the power of asking intelligent and progressing questions. And right there is both a problem and an opportunity.
Why would intelligent questions be a problem?
Glad you asked. Came across this article recently from Training Journal on, as you might guess, sales training. The article has an infographic (it’s pretty large and hard to read actually, so I won’t embed it here, but you can find it at the link). The most interesting part of the infographic is this set-up: they talk to sales managers and sales reps, so basically bosses and employees. They give them five elements of the sales process and ask them to rank them 1-5 in importance.
Sales managers (the bosses) say the most important thing is “addressing customer questions or objectives.” (For the sales reps, that was No. 2, so there is some alignment.)
No. 1 for the sales reps, though, was “knowledge of firm’s product or offering.” For the sales managers, that was No. 4.
You might think this is logical: if the reps have to call and sell all day, knowing the product should naturally be important to them. (BTW we also get these kind of questions every day from potential clients: “What do you know about our product?”, “How can you answer product specific questions?”)
But it also speaks to a dichotomy between how we think about sales at the highest levels and how we teach others about sales. If the managers know it’s all about intelligent questions and back-and-forth with the prospect, they need to convey that side of sales.
We’re not arguing that a rep shouldn’t know the product. Of course he/she should (at least a bit). For sure they have to understand the values and benefits of the product. But Forrester research has shown that a majority of buyers say “about 3 in 10” salespeople seem prepared to have a legitimate conversation with them.
That’s a very low number. It makes you think that maybe sales calls are becoming too transactional because the whole focus is on the product, and the potential buyer has already done a bit of research and wants to get into questions and objections. Is the rep not ready?
There’s the opportunity
Article from a couple of months ago on Fast Company called “Are you outsourcing or wasting your time?” Interesting stuff in there, but check out this part from a productivity coach:
Make sure that the questions you ask are quality ones. “The leadership skill that we’re seeing a significant drop in is the skill of asking well-defined questions,” says productivity coach Jason Womack.
If you believe any of the Sales Challenger model about eliminating Option A (current) to get to Option B (yours), that’s all rooted in conversations, objections, intelligent questions, etc. You need to get the prospect to a level where you hit them with a question they can’t answer. When they can’t answer that question, instantly their brain will realize they need your option. That’s one of the key moments in the sales process — they basically just realized “Oh shit!” — and it comes from intelligent questions.
But as this coach in the quote says, it’s a declining skill. And as the sales managers vs. sales reps dichotomy shows, we may still be teaching sales in a transactional way. We give the reps lots of info on the product but don’t teach them to thrive in the conversations that create the sale.
What does this have to do with outsourcing?
Everything and nothing all at once. But think on this: how much more would you sell, especially in the scale-up process, if you were using a team that has been through these processes hundreds of times and knows how to ask intelligent questions that direct the buyer to a new option?
You’d probably sell a lot more than with an in-house, salaried team reciting product features on the phone.
Salespeople get better with experience not because they know how to describe the product better. They get better with experience because they know how to guide the conversation. Maybe that’s what we’re missing these days. So rather than looking for it in the open market to build a team, grab the team that already knows how to do it.