In the heat of a sales call, it's easy to get carried away and possibly follow a tangent that the prospect is leading. That's not a bad way to gain some useful personal insight and information about the prospect. However, you always want your salespeople to be in control of the conversation and the sales call. They are there for a specific purpose and to gain detailed information about the prospect’s requirements, budget and upcoming projects for which your products or services are ideally suited.
Salespeople should keep the questions they want to ask firmly in mind and avoid asking the following questions at all costs. And, unless the prospect leads a rep into personal question territory, remind them to stay far, far away from those, too.
1. How's business?
Before a salesperson calls on the prospect, he should make sure he has done his homework on the prospect’s website, business affiliations, customers and competitors. Asking this, even in jest, makes a salesperson look unprepared and clueless in the struggling economy most businesses are facing. Rather, they might ask, "What aspect of your business has been most adversely impacted by the economic realities of the past couple years?"
2. What are your product plans for the next year?
This is the stuff of private company meetings and confidential memorandum, not something they’re likely to tell a new-to-them sales professional at the first meeting (think first date). Your rep’s level of sales savvy will be quite suspect if he comes out with this one. Once a salesperson gains some experience and trust, he should learn what these plans are naturally as a part of the ongoing conversations.
3. Do you want me to [fill in the blank]?
Although your rep is not flexing his arms in the prospect’s office, he always has personal power. Asking a "mother may I?" question such as this takes the sales rep swiftly out of the driver's seat and gives all the control to the prospect, never to be regained. You know the saying, Better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission"? Rather than ask a "do you want me..." question, a salesperson should make a statement. If he’s wrong, the prospect will correct him and the rep retains his personal power.
4. So, what else are you guys doing?
This silence filler should be stricken from a rep’s conversational arsenal immediately. If there is nothing else to ask or nothing to say, just be quiet. Silence is a remarkable tool and (in my opinion) way underutilized.
5. Who else should I be talking to/following up with?
Really? Preparation and homework should be at least 80 percent of a sales call so that a rep goes in knowing he has the decision maker in front of him. If the salesperson is faced with doing a pre-interview meeting with an influencer or underling, he should be crystal clear about that and go in knowing the hierarchy in the decision making chain.
If a rep is emailing or sending something, he might casually ask, "Is there someone else on the team (besides [name]) who should also receive the [fill in the blank]?" This might uncover the team administrator or other cross-functional parties that will need to be involved.
Asking the right questions to uncover the right details and facts is the biggest single issue when meeting a new prospect. You don't want to stop the process dead in its tracks by asking one of these mind trap questions.
Michael Krause is the President and founder of Sales Sense Solutions, Inc., a sales consultancy that customizes Fortune 500 success systems for small and midsized companies. His latest book is “Smart Prospecting that Works Every Time.”