Tag Archives: probing skills

Find Out What’s On Their Minds…

The following reprint of today’s “makingthenumbers.com” sales tip is a solid testimonial to the importance of probing, trial closing, and listening within the sales process…

In most states you can turn right on a red traffic signal, but the law requires you to come to a full stop before you do.

In sales, it is vital that you work with a specific detailed pre-call objective so you know exactly where you are going (or want to go). Before you get into gear, come to a full stop!

Not just a “How you doin’ today?” or “How are things?”

That’s not a full stop.

You have to ask specifically, “Is your quarter coming in on schedule?” “How is the new production manager working out?” “Is the new product launch of your competitor having any real effect on your key customer?”

Then let them say what they want to say. Let them tell you what is on their mind. They might tell you some things that you can play to when it’s your turn in the barrel. They may tell you they are having a “bad hair day,” and in that case you might decide to cut them some slack, cut short your call, and sell in a future appointment as a professional courtesy.

One way or the other, test the water before you take the plunge.

Not only the temperature, hot or cold, but the depth and what’s on the bottom as well. Give them a break. They will give you the business in return.

Are You Interested?

interested3Whether you are a sales professional, sales manager, business executive or business owner, becoming “interested” is an important component of driving your organization’s sales and business development effort.

While great amounts of emphasis are more commonly placed on striving to become “interesting” in our interaction with others — that is, we focus on our “speaking points” and things we might say.

Instead, consider the concept of becoming more “interested” and how it might influence the various people involved.

Read the full article…

Bridging the Communication Gap

apples_to_oranges_400_clr_5502Miscommunication can be a costly occurrence.

Defined simply by Merriam Webster as failure to communicate clearly, the causes of miscommunication can vary:

  • lack of forethought or preparation
  • poor verbal skills
  • intentional deceit on the part of the sender
  • lack of comprehension
  • poor listening skills
  • distraction on the part of the receiver, and more…

In an on-line article, author and conflict resolution expert Tristan Loo suggests that miscommunication is also the primary contributing factor to conflict.

“Miscommunication opens up the triangle of other factors that inevitably leads to conflict,” he says.

Loo goes on to explain that people tend to fear the worst outcome.

In moments of miscommunication, the mind will fill in missing information with its own creative insight, which is often fear-based. Our minds naturally seek logical explanations to events as well. Absent those explanations, our minds frequently switch to a fear-based mode in which we satisfy our need for answers with that of assumption.

Once we lock-into our assumptions the tendency is to believe them as truth, thus resulting in conflict.

The Solution – Trial Closing
In the selling world, a great deal is lost to miscommunication, conflict, and misunderstanding. Buyers tend to buy from people they like and trust – but miscommunication, as noted above, breeds uncertainty, conflict and distrust.

To bridge the gap, Loo suggests people adopt an open mind with respect to alternative possibilities. To facilitate this, increased use of clarifying questions by all parties during need assessments, business meetings, conversations and presentations is the key.

Since it is an accepted principle that the primary sender of communication must take the responsibility for the quality of the communication, then the person who is selling should be the one to initiate these clarifying  or “trial closing” questions which, when properly used, will confirm both understanding and receptivity.

Note that trial closing questions (which seek opinions) are not the same as “closing” questions (which seek commitment). Trial closing questions tend to be open-ended as well, where closing questions tend to be closed-ended (i.e., seeking a “Yes” (or “No”) answer.

Examples of trial closing questions include:

  • “How does that sound to your?”
  • “What do you think so far?”
  • “How would that work for your group?”

Read related posts…




5 Keys to a Good Question?

questionsMany sales professionals have found that by focusing on being “interested” during the early parts of the sales process they are able to more easily become “interesting” in the eyes of buyers during the latter phases.

Yet when planning sales calls and presentations the more common practice involves focusing on our speaking points…  which, if we’re not careful, can result in sub-optimum sales calls and presentations that essentially consist of “what we do” rather than what our buyers “will get.”

In other words, to optimize sales success it is best if we focus not only on what we’ll “say” during sales calls or presentations, but also on what we will “ask.”

Here’s a short video that might help clarify this point, and that shares five key steps to crafting and asking the best questions, which are:

  1. When planning your questions, try to focus on what people hope to accomplish rather than what they “think” they need
  2. Create a list of questions in advance (in writing!) based on these guidelines:
    • Create both open-ended and closed-ended questions — then you will be able to select appropriately during conversations and sales calls to control flow.
    • Create polite “prompts” which are helpful in situations when you receive only partial answers to your questions and need to politely ask others to continue… to tell you more.
    • Create trial closing questions to test receptivity — as opposed to “closing” questions, which seek decisions, trial closing questions seek opinions; they are very important because they test receptivity as well as understanding. Most important, trial closing facilitates easier closing because we are gaining useful feedback throughout the process. Examples include, “What do you think so far?” “Would that be helpful?”
    • Sometimes other people might be wary of our reasons for asking certain questions; they might even suspect we have a “hidden” agenda, and therefore will be guarded when responding. To address these issues, and to minimize confusion or to address potentially delicate issues, create statement / question combinations to better-position your questions or to give people greater comfort or “amnesty” by explaining others have encountered similar issues. These combinations begin with a clarifying statement, such as,  “When considering our services, most of our customers involved three or four different people in the evaluation and decision-making process. Can you tell me how the decision-making is done in your organization?”
  3. Ask only purposeful questions — each question is asked for a reason, so it is important; don’t accept vague or incomplete answers (see item #2-bullet 2); keep in mind that vague answers are often due to poor questions!
  4. Ask only one question at a time, and let others answer each question
  5. Use your list during business development conversations or sales calls. Conduct on-going post-call assessments… were your questions effective? If so, use them again; if not, improve as necessary.

Are You More Interesting… or Interested?

interested2Do you strive to be interesting?

Many say they do… but whether you are a sales manager, business executive or business owner, consider that becoming more “interested” could be an important component of driving your organization’s sales growth and business development effort.

While great amounts of emphasis are more commonly placed on striving to become “interesting” in our interaction with others, consider how the alternative of becoming more “interested” might influence the various people involved.

As a sales manager or business executive, our ongoing responsibilities doubtlessly include driving growth and motivating the team. This typically involves helping sales people or team members to maintain a positive attitude as well as a belief in their ability to get the job done; it also involves managing processes so people stay focused on and work on the right things, and leading people toward mutual goal achievement.

It is not easy work.

It can become easier, however, when we find ways to consistently exhibit an honest interest in the work being done . And please note, this means becoming “interested” not only after the work has been done, but also while the work is being done! An after-the-fact or “rear-view mirror” approach to management can only yield judgment about past performance; but our “interest” while work is in progress enables us to influence results – hopefully for the better!

“Interested” people also tend to ask questions. So, this genuine interest can best be expressed by asking questions about day-to-day efforts, successes and challenges; we can then analyze the information gathered (by listening carefully to people’s answers to our questions) and proactively find ways to become involved. A steady diet of this type of interaction will quickly lead to a better understanding of the team’s attitude and aptitude.

But most of all, if consistently implemented this interactive and collegial management style has a tendency to send a strong implied message – a message that says we care! A message that says each team member is important and their work is important. We might be surprised at how much more effectively people perform their jobs when they realize how important their success really is from our perspective.

The Best Sales Questions?

questions2When involved in selling, it is critical that we truly understand our buyers’ needs, interests and priorities. Otherwise it is nearly impossible to close the sale!

Need assessment requires good communication skills, primarily probing and listening, which we have found are complementary in nature. Consider:

  • Asking better questions…
  • Enables us to uncover better information…
  • Which enables better listening and leads to better need assessment

But be careful! It can be easy to get carried away and ask too many questions, in which case our sales call can take on the feeling of an interrogation! Instead, it’s best to prepare a series of strategic questions in advance.

One effective exercise is to list at least twenty things we might like to know about our customers or prospects, and then craft five or six open-ended questions that might get us the answers to all twenty items.

If this sounds like an exercise you might find helpful, here are five keys to implementation and, ultimately, to better probing, enhanced listening (due to the “better” answers we’ll get) and, ultimately, greater sales success: Read the full article…

In addition, if this perspective resonates with you, you are not alone! In fact, CBS News touted the value of questions in the selling process back in 2008, and even shared a list of what they identified as the “world’s best sales questions.”

Critical Communication Skills?

comm2People have a tendency to think about communication in terms of speaking… as in, “So-and-so is a great communicator because they speak so well!”

However, when it comes to effective, reliable communication, we’ve found the following four skills to be the most critical:

Planning… or at the very least, a willingness to plan. Consider that if we take the time to plan our communication we will most likely identify numerous things we’d like to learn about others and hopefully craft good questions to help with this pursuit. In addition, we’ll more than likely identify several key things we’d like to share with our audience (whether an audience of one of 1 or 100) as well – thereby conducting a more thorough exchange.

Finally, the forethought should help us to use more specific language, thus helping our audience to more accurately interpret our message; and we might even anticipate exactly how our audience might interpret or misinterpret our message, and take preventative action!

Probing… Asking the best questions can make an enormous difference in the flow of communication and  on how others react to our questions – how they perceive the “reasons we’re asking certain questions.”

Consider that whether involved in a simple one-on-one discussion, conducting an interview, leading a meeting, coaching a team member, making a sales call or making an important telephone call, the person who is asking the questions tends to be the one in control.  Further, the quality of those questions and the way in which they are structured will have a significant impact on the quality of the answers we receive.

Listening… The experts say that listening is the most important communication skill, and the one we use the most out of all communication skills (45%). However, it is also the one at which we tend to be the least efficient. The biggest barriers to good listening are distractions:

  • Internal distractions such as thinking about what we will say or ask next rather than listening to others; or dealing with physical issues such as a headache or hunger.
  • External distractions such as loud background noises, poor telephone connections, or a distracted audience.
  • The tendency to rebut what others are saying… this, the studies show, can happen in varying degrees depending upon the nature of our conversation and the party or parties with whom we’re interacting. But once we start to anticipate how we will argue with whatever it is others are saying, we compromise our ability to listen

Proactive style… or more simply stated, “doing what we say we’ll do” as a result of conversations, meetings, instructions, customer requests, and so on.  Logically, it is far easier to accomplish this if we have accurately heard and interpreted (listened!) to those addressing us; and, as noted above, if we have asked good questions – including clarifying questions when we’re not clear on what others have said – the likelihood of reliable interpretation is greater, which will enable us to more effectively and accurately follow-through on things we’ve discussed.