There is one question that, by federal law, a nurse must ask a patient upon entering the
emergency ward at the hospital. Take a guess: Do you have insurance? Where does it hurt? Who is your closest relative? Nice try, but the question that must, by law, be asked is: "On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your level of pain?" Sounds crazy, but it's true.
So how does that apply to us in sales? Let's go back to the basics of sales, where there are two types of questions:
1. The open-ended question, which can't be answered with a yes or a no response, but requires the prospect to elaborate on the answer.
2. The closed-ended question, which can only be answered with a yes or no.
The rule of thumb is: Never ask a closed-ended question unless you know the answer. Be careful, though, because knowing the answer doesn't necessarily mean prospects will answer the way you think they should.
Structure the closed-ended question to ensure you get the answer you want and expect. Closed-ended questions should guide you in the selling process. This may sound elementary, but you'd be surprised how many reps don't know what these are. Another rule of thumb: On a needs-analysis or fact-finding call (what we at LPG call the Customer Marketing Profile), open-ended questions should account for 75 percent of all
questions, and closed-ended questions should account for 25 percent. You want the prospect to talk more than you talk.
Within these two types of questions, there are two basic categories: information-based questions and problem-related questions. Most sales reps have no problem asking information-based questions. As a sales manager, you probably see these all the time when you're out in the field coaching your reps. What is your target demo? What are your profit centers? What's the busiest time for your business? Who's your main competition? You know, the easy questions.
The dilemma is, this is where the problem starts (or actually ends) in most fact-finding calls. Reps often stop here because they think they now have all the answers to put together a presentation and sell the prospect. That's a real problem because they really need more information. They need to find a problem, a challenge, or an opportunity. Some reps will start out the problem-related questions with: What is your problem?
This gets the door slammed right in their face. Most prospects don't understand why you think they have a problem; most don't think they have a problem. But you do, and that's why you are there. This is where the nurses' question comes into play (admittedly with a bit of a stretch). Here is the "federal" question when making that transition between information-based and problem-related questions: On a scale of 1-10,
and there is no perfect 10, how would you rate your advertising effectiveness?
If the prospect believes his/her advertising is effective 90 percent of the time, he or she usually will respond by answering "7." The sales rep then asks, "Why not an 8 or a 9?" With this process, we now are identifying the gap, and this is where you must take the problem-related questions a few steps further. First rule of thumb: Never ask a problem-related question unless you have a more difficult one right behind it. What you are trying to do with the "federal" question is get prospects to realize they have a need, because there is a gap between where they are and where they need to go (depending on their answer).
To that end, here's is a list of other problem-related questions for your reps to ask once they get into this phase of the questioning:
- When sales go down, what happens to the morale of your sales department and how does that affect your
- Whose responsibility is it to make sure you hit your target sales goals?
- When you have employee turnover, what happens to your sales?
Remember, the only stupid question is the problem-related question we don't ask or never feel we can ask. Once you find the gap in the 1-10 question, you have permission to ask harder questions, which will lead to the real challenge - and therefore the basis for your "problem-solving" presentation.