B2B selling situations are often consultative; the perfect environment for good questioning techniques to have the biggest impact. Businesses selling to businesses have an advantage that retail salespeople just don’t – real opportunities to shape needs and requirements.
Of course there are those basic questions that must be answered somewhere in your sales conversations: budget (at least some indication is needed), when the decision will be made, who the decision maker is (usually a cohort in a B2B sale) and the decision making process.
But it’s the compelling questions that will differentiate you from the average salesperson. Open ended questions that make your prospect think in terms of their needs but answer in terms of your needs.
Yes, those questions will vary between industries, but less than you might think in B2B. Hopefully you have already mastered your rapport building questions, the ones that help you gain some background and insight into your prospect both as a person and as an organization. These are critical too, but they aren’t going to really get you deep enough into the sales conversation to uncover real needs.
Selling to the C-Suite
And if you’re selling to the C-Suite, Gong has published some data that would suggest you won’t get anywhere asking the discovery kinds of questions that most of us would use in a consultative sale. Their research shows that these sorts of questions benefit you, not the buyer. You can well imagine how senior executives are suffering from 'sales conversation fatigue'.
So what works? I think more of us would be wise to heed this Chief Revenue Officer’s lament: “Your job isn’t to ask me what’s keeping me up at night. It’s to tell me what should be.” Bingo. You need to be more than one step ahead in this situation. A little bit like a home painting project where 75% of your time is spent prepping and only 20% actually painting. (The other 5% is on cleanup, hopefully not something you are doing in a sales situation!)
The questions I’ve listed below are more than just the usual discovery questions rolled out by most salespeople, but if you’re selling to the C-Suite, I would recommend that you spend even more time prepping, researching and crafting the right questions.
Questions for the Beginning of a Sales Conversation
*Note that a basic rapport must already be established.
How do your customers react to . . . ?
What do your customers tell you about . . .?
What would make you more competitive? (See how this is one where you could have the answer for a senior exec?)
If you could change one thing about your current situation, what would it be?
Questions for the Middle of the Sales Conversation
What is the result you are seeking?
What is making it more difficult for you to achieve what you want?
How could this product/service change your situation? More experienced salespeople can also ask the kind of questions that allow the prospect to realize a need they hadn’t previously identified that is solved by the product/service under consideration. Again, a good one for senior executives if handled well.
If you don’t make any changes, what will the outcome be?
What is the most important criteria in making this decision?
Don’t forget those essential ones: how will this decision be made, who is involved, what is the time scale and is there a budget?
Questions for the End of the Sales Conversation – the Ones that Close the Deal
What sort of ROI do you need to see from this investment?
Who will be involved in implementing this solution?
Is there anything that would prevent us from working together?
Are you ready to work with me? (You’ll need to have your own variation on this one that works for you.)
The Qualifying Questions for Any Part of a Sales Conversation
And of course the qualifying questions that can be used anywhere in your sales conversation:
Can you tell me more about that?
What would happen then?
Let me see if I’ve understood you correctly. If . . . , then . . . ?
I believe success in sales relies upon the ability to ask questions in a way that maintains control of the sales conversation. But to be truly successful, you must absolutely possess a genuine curiosity and a willingness to serve. I don’t believe in scripts and methodologies (customers never stay on script!), but I do believe that careful crafting of a handful of questions that work for you, in your sales conversations, is the way to B2B sales success.