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Are Questions Only An Excuse To Tee Up Your Pitch?

by David Brock on March 10th, 2010

The cold call started pretty well.  Someone called, he had a good premise for the sales call, he had done his homework, he asked a question…….

That’s where it went terribly off course.  I had barely begun my response when he interupted, “Our company is involved in those areas as well, this is what we do…..”

“Hold on,” I sputtered,

“…and we have a lot of experience in working with companies like yours…..” he went on.

“But, but…..”  I tried to interrupt.

“….I really think you will like what we do, here’s why….”  he continued.

Normally, at this point I would hang up, but I decided to let it go on (Disclosure time, as you know these calls are great fodder for blog posts).   I put the call on the speakerphone and read a few emails.

“Well what do you think, when do you want to get together and talk about how we can help your company?”  he finished his pitch.

I realized this was the time for audience participation, “Thanks for telling me about what you do, I didn’t get to finish answering your question, the area you asked about is really not a high priority for us…. I don’t see how you can help us.”  I stated.

“But, but…..” sputtered the sales guy.

Well you can guess where it went from there.  This call wasn’t unusual, sales people just can’t wait to launch into their pitch.  Truth be told, questions are really a bother, they slow sales people  down, all that’s needed is the key word—that set’s sales people off, then it’s time to pitch. Their ears are tuned to this word, then they go.

Too often, doesn’t it seem like sales people ask questions, but don’t really care about the answer, they are just looking for an excuse to start their pitch.  They ask questions because they know sales people are supposed to ask questions (but they don’t understand why).  Here are some of the cues:

  1. They don’t listen to the answer.
  2. They don’t probe and follow up.  They don’t drill down to understand, they jump to something else.
  3. They don’t push back and challenge to better understand.
  4. They don’t try to understand the impact of the issue, quantify or qualify it.
  5. They seem more worried about the next question than understanding what you are trying to say.
  6. They interrupt and start talking about their product.
  7. They don’t  play back your response to verify their understanding.
  8. They don’t explore options or alternatives.
  9. They don’t ask how you feel about what’s happening.
  10. They don’t know enough about your business, your customers, your industry, your competition to explore impacts on what you are trying to do.
  11. They don’t take notes and refer back to them in the conversation.  (Or they are playing tic-tac-toe on their note pad as you speak—Yes, that has happened.)
  12. At the end, they don’t ask, “Is there anything else that we should understand?”
  13. In presenting their solution, they don’t tie it directly back to the issues and priorities you raised.  They leave it to you to connect the dots.

Yes, questions do tee up our presentation of a solution.  But only after we thoroughly understand what the customer is trying to achieve.  We need to ask questions, listen, probe, understand, question more.  We need to really understand their problems, needs goals, we need to understand what the customer values.  It’s great to understand how they will select a solution, who else they are considering, how they will fund the solution.  There is so much to understand and discover.

Questions are about discovery and learning.  We can only execute a winning strategy in responding to what we have learned from the customer in a way that creates superior value.

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3 Comments
  1. It’s amazing how many real-life situations there are to draw from, isn’t it?

    I also detest it when the person calling refuses to take no for an answer. I think I know my business well enough to know if a product or service will be of value but I’m constantly surprised how many sales people keep pushing. So I now take the easy way out and agree to an appointment. Then I cancel the day before. It’s not polite but neither is refusing to believe me when I say I’m not interested.

    Another great post David!

    • Kelley, thanks for the great comment! I’m always amazed at the opportunities sales people waste. Getting someone on the phone who is willing to speak is something to be treasured and used well. It’s a shame to miss the opportunity.

      As always, your comments are a great contribution to this post.

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