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Do You Know The Answers To These Three Questions?

by David Brock on June 13th, 2014

As you know, I’m constantly doing deal reviews with sales people.  Each review is similar.  The sales person has spent a lot of time understanding needs and requirements, positioning their solution to best fulfill their needs and requirements.  Most know who the competitors are and are trying to position themselves favorably against the competition.  In the reviews, there’s always a lot of background on our relationships with the customer, the activities to date.  There’s a lot of discussion about upcoming activities.

At some point, I always ask the same 3 questions.  This is where things start going off the rails.  Too often, sales people don’t know the answers–and not knowing the answers to these three questions are, potentially, the biggest road blocks to success (or indicators of whether we should be pursuing the deal at all).

Let’s walk through the 3 questions.

1:  What are they buying this for?  When I pose this question, sales people confidently reply:  They need a new Financial System, they’re improving HR systems, they want new manufacturing tools.  Too often, the answers are always framed by the products/services the sales person is selling.  Those responses describe what the customer is buying (which is always obvious), but not what they are buying it for.  The question of “What are they buying this for,” focuses the business issues the customer is trying to address.  Do they have problems they are trying to solve?  Is it a new opportunity they are trying to address?  Is it to remove obstacles to their success?  Is it to help accelerate the ability to achieve a goal?  Is it to eliminate risks to their operations or business?

If we don’t know what they are buying the product for, we have no basis to demonstrate what they will achieve, no way to identify and position the value we create with the solution.  So the most fundamental question on every sales deal is What are they buying this for?  (As a note to managers coaching deals, if the sales person ever responds to the question with the product or solution in the response, then they are completely off base, they don’t understand.  This question has to be answered in terms of the customer’s business situation and what they want to achieve.  We know the product or solution helps them achieve it, but we have to understand the customer business situation and be able to crisply articulate their issues, what they are trying to achieve, and priorities.)

2: Why is it important for them to do it now?  Sales people are always grateful (sometimes relieved) that the customer wants to talk to them about buying something now.  But they almost never know “why now?”  What caused them to wake up this morning saying “We’ve got to buy this or that!”  Why didn’t they do it last year?  Why shouldn’t they wait until next year?  Why now?  Something has happened that has caused the customer to say, “We need to solve this problem now.”  Until we understand, we don’t know how real the deal is, what’s driving them to address the problem, what their sense of urgency is.  Perhaps it was a competitor providing some terrific insight that got the customer all hot and lathered—kind of nice to know that.  Perhaps something happened with their customers–customers are unhappy, leaving them–kind of nice to know (as well as how many, what the loss is, etc.).  Perhaps, it’s a new business opportunity–but they have a “window of opportunity,” in which to address it.

If we don’t know the answer to “Why now,” more importantly, if the customer can’t tell you “Why now,” there’s a high probability it won’t happen now.  The customer may select your solution, but as they take it up the food chain for approval, if they don’t have a compelling business case focused on “Why now,” then it probably won’t be approved.   (Again, for managers coaching sales people; this question is never answered in terms of our product, it is answered in terms of the business situation the customer is facing, the events that are causing them to do this today and not defer taking action until next year.)

3.  What are the consequences of doing nothing?  This may sound a little redundant when you look at the other two questions, but it’s really critical.  We know the huge numbers of “No Decision Made,”  we know how much people resist change.  The first 2 questions tend to focus on the future state.  They focus on outcomes we will achieve if we solve a problem or address an issue.  But however powerful the reasons are, however important it is to do it now, unless we understand the consequence of taking no action there is a high probability the customer may just not be able to overcome their current inertia and change.  As sales people, we have to make sure the pain/costs of doing nothing is much greater than the pain/costs of change.

If you are a sales person, do you know the answers to those three questions for every deal you have in your pipeline?  If not, get them immediately.  If your customer doesn’t know the answers to those questions, then the deal isn’t real.

If you are a manager, these are the first three questions you should ask in every deal review.

If you are an executive wanting to get your sales people to be customer focused, ask them those three questions for every deal you talk to them about.  If the sales people are taking you to visit the customer, don’t walk through the customer’s doors until you know the answer to those three questions.

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11 Comments
  1. “the deal isn’t real!” I have now ‘acquired’ that phrase. :))

    Great Blog, Dave on the importance, and simplicity,
    of the Sales Manager/ Sales Person interface.
    It’s another Interactive Skill.

    Have a great weekend.

    • Fair trade Brian, since I’ve co-opted Value Construction 😉

      Thanks so much for your support and the very kind Tweet today! Have a great weekend, hope you get some great golf in. Regards, Dave

  2. Excellent clarifying questions on the qualification of an opportunity. Thanks for sharing your wisdom in a sales consumable manner!

  3. Hey Dave,

    You nail one of the things from SPIN that persists for me as strongly as ever… Implications or Impacts.

    What are the negative impacts of taking no action? What are the positive impacts of taking (certain) actions? How important (what’s the weight?) are those impacts? And how does it all tie back to KPIs, goals, objectives… increasing revenue and/or profit, decreasing costs, becoming more competitive, better managing risk, or achieving the organizations mission or vision or something else that is critical for the individual decision maker.

    Given the lack of consistency with which I see this thinking applied, you’d think it was rocket science.

    • Mike, I think the problem is that it is too much common sense. Somehow, we have a propensity to make things more complicated than need be.

  4. Michael writes: “Given the lack of consistency with which I see this thinking applied, you’d think it was rocket science.”

    Rocket science is easy compared to sales, or any other applied social science topic.

    Rocket science is easy because it is just complicated motion equations.

    Rocket science isn’t for everyone. But, anyone can learn the equations. And make forward predictions. Nobody is surprised that common sense physics doesn’t work.

    Selling is hard because everything appears to be common sense.
    Common sense is backwards looking – telling us now that something was obvious. Common sense in sales is expected to work. Without any modification.

    Selling is much, much harder than rocket science. The rockets don’t talk back, have unrealistic expectations for flight, or try to go Mars when they only have enough fuel to escape the Earth’s gravity.

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