We’re selling all the time. It could be a calf, a car, an idea. It could be our experience and knowledge when we’re competing for a job or a pasture lease. But most of us aren’t comfortable as “salesmen.” Last week Dave talked about how most of us like to help people, and that if we focus on solving other peoples’ problems with our products, then selling becomes more doable. He started with understanding how to listen. Now let’s ask the right questions.
Some time ago I picked up a copy of The SPIN Selling Workbook by Neil Rackham. If you want to improve your sales skills, I highly recommend you get a copy of this book. In it, Rackham describes four types of questions represented by the acronym SPIN:
1. Situation Questions
2. Problem Questions
3. Implication Questions
4. Needs-Payoff Questions
1. Situation Questions
As the name suggests, situation questions help us find out about someone’s situation. It is important to ask situation questions to get enough background to know if the person is a potential buyer, but be aware, asking too many situation questions has a negative impact on making a sale. You’ve probably heard that people like talking about themselves. Rackham disagrees. Busy people don’t want to waste their time telling you about themselves. They want to tell you about their problems. Ask only enough situation questions to give you the information you need to be able to ask intelligent questions about someone’s problems.
Examples: What kind of enterprises do you have? When do you usually wean the calves?
2. Problem Questions
Earlier, I asked you to think of the product you are selling in terms of the problems it solves for a buyer. Problem questions help you determine if the buyer has any of the problems that your product can solve. They are much more powerful than situation questions.
Examples: Have you had any trouble finding good help? Have you had any problems getting the H2’s bred?
3. Implication Questions
Implication questions explore the ripple effects of problems and the resulting consequences of those ripples. For example, let’s say in response to asking a problem question you learned that someone is having a hard time finding reliable help. Some follow-up implication questions might be, How’s that affecting your time? Is that causing you to focus more on the $10/hour jobs than you’d like? Then, How is that affecting productivity? How’s that impacting profit? Is that creating stress? How else is that showing up? Implication questions help buyers realize the real extent of the problem (understanding the real size of the gorilla on the teeter-totter).
Implication questions tend to be the hardest to ask, but they are also the most powerful questions and effective sales people ask a lot of them.
4. Needs-Pay Off Questions
Needs-payoff questions help determine the value or usefulness of a proposed solution. We use these questions to ask prospects to describe the benefits that our solution can offer.
Example: If you could rely on Joe to make good decisions, so that you could pursue that new enterprise, how much more income would you create?
Implicit & Explicit Needs
Understanding the difference between implicit and explicit needs is a crucial part of effective selling. An implicit need describes what someone doesn’t want. An explicit need describes what they do want.
Implicit Need: I don’t like the way it is. This is a problem.
Explicit Need: I want to do something about this. I need an answer.
The difference is more than semantics. Explicit needs are much more powerful than implicit needs. People will not buy based only on frustration and dissatisfaction with the way things are (their implicit need). People buy much more readily when they express the way they want things to be (their explicit need).
One of the powerful paradigm shifts people make at the Ranching For Profit School is to focus on creating the things they want (explicit needs) rather than fighting against the things they don’t want (implicit needs). One of the reasons implication and needs-payoff questions are so powerful is that they help turn implicit needs into explicit needs.
Most people assume that “the close” is where effective sales people pullout all of the stops and apply the most pressure. But effective sales people don’t have to apply pressure. If we’ve helped the buyer express their explicit needs the close is simply the logical conclusion to a conversation about the buyer’s problems and potential solutions to those problems. An effective close follows these three steps:
1. Invite Other Questions Or Concerns. Address those questions or concerns using the SPIN questions to investigate the problems and then listen to the buyer’s answers in order to understand the issues.
2. Sum Up. For example, you might say something like, “It sounds as though this would solve that problem and provide substantial benefits. Do you see it that way?”
3. Invite the buyer to buy. This may be as simple as saying something like, “The next step is to sign a contract. I can take care of that right now if you like.”
If a buyer expresses objections it is because their teeter-totter didn’t tip. In fact, most objections are actually created by the seller introducing the solution to the problem (your product) too soon.
Handle objections by asking problem questions to clarify the objection. Then ask implication questions to determine the cost of inaction and needs/pay off questions about solutions. It is best if you can involve the buyer in overcoming the objection. Then go back and close again.
For example, assume a buyer expresses concern over the price of your solution (product). You might want to try something like:
You are concerned about the price? Is it that you feel that the value you’ll get isn’t worth the price or that you might have a hard time coming up with the money now?
Assuming the latter,
Am I understanding you correctly? You see the value but don’t have enough money right now to make the purchase?
I can see why you are concerned. I have customers who faced a similar problem. If we could find a reasonable payment plan, would you be prepared to commit to the purchase?
What would you have to do to solve this problem? Would you like to hear what others in your situation have tried?
If the buyer is not prepared to commit, then there are other objections, or this objection is a smoke screen and the buyer has no real intention of buying. Keep searching for the real objection. If you continue to find reasonable solutions and the buyer continues to come up with another objection, you are probably dealing with an unethical buyer. Stop wasting your time and walk away. Five percent of your customers will cause 90% of your headaches. Odds are that if this person buys from you they will be part of that 5%.
It is ten times harder to get a new customer than to keep an existing customer. Positive word of mouth is great, low-cost advertising. Word of a bad experience will spread ten times farther and faster than word of a good experience. That’s why it is critical that you follow-up and take care of your customers after the sale. As a bonus, by following up with your buyers, you see the results people are getting from your product in real situations. That information is crucial to helping you improve.
Gregg Simonds once told me that you can only serve your self through service to others. No where is that more true than in business. Your business exists to serve your customers, so take care of them.
As I’ve learned more about the sales process, I’ve come to see similarities to many of Bud Williams’ low-stress livestock handling principles. Bud talks about “letting an animal do what you want it to do.” By helping a potential buyer see the cost of inaction and the value of a solution relative to the cost of your product, you are pressuring but giving a way for the buyer to release the pressure.
No one wants to be a pushy salesman, but sometimes it is in the potential buyer’s best interest to be pressured. Yesterday evening I spoke with someone who is coming back to the family ranch with his young family to help out his aging folks. He said that over the next few years he will be taking on more and more responsibility. He said he really wanted to attend the school but that he thought he should wait until he had a few years of experience under his belt. I told him I understood how he felt, but I didn’t stop there. I asked him why he was interested in the school. He said he wanted to deepen his understanding of business, economics and cell grazing. He said he knew the planning and communication tools he would get would be valuable. I asked him why he wanted to wait to get those tools, how he might be able to use those tools in his current situation and what the cost would be over the next few years of not having those tools. Was I being pushy or was I trying to help him avoid the regret that many Ranching For Profit School alumni reveal when they say, “I wish I’d taken this school years ago.” If I’d pushed a little harder maybe they would have.
Robert Kiyosaki is right in saying that the most important skill needed in business is to learn how to sell. After all, whether it’s a commodity, an experience, your time and skill or an idea, we are all selling something all of the time. It’s time we learned how to do it effectively.