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Five Questions Revisited

by David Brock on October 19th, 2010

The other day, I wrote about how my manager coached and trained me to be a better sales person.  In the article titled 5 Questions, I described that in every deal review, she would ask me the same 5 questions.  Initially, I didn’t have the answers to those questions, but not wanting to appear to be a dolt in front of her, after I realized what she was doing, I came to every meeting prepared to answer those 5 questions.  When she saw that, she then asked another 5 Questions, again, I didn’t have the answers, we went through the same cycle until I mastered that level of questions.  And the cycle would continue with her asking 5 questions, trying to get me to a higher level of performance.

Many of you have written me, asking what the 5 (or if you read the article closely, 15) questions were.  Here is the real brilliance of what she was doing was the 5 questions didn’t matter.  They were questions that were important to help me think about my sales strategies and what I was doing to move the deal through the sales cycle.  The questions were important to consider for any deal.  By asking me the same 5 questions about every deal, I realized I needed to think about those issues constantly and make sure I was building my strategies around them.  Once she knew that I had internalized these issues and was posing them to myself for every deal, shaping my strategies on the answers, she moved to a different 5 questions—again, they could have been almost anything related to moving a deal through the sales process.

What she was doing was engaging me in thinking about ideas, strategies, and what I was doing by asking questions.  By asking the same question over and over, eventually I internalized them.  They became a natural way of how I thought about deals, how I analyzed them, how I developed my strategies.  Once I had mastered those 5 questions, she moved to another 5, again the purpose was to engage me in thinking about what I was doing and learning how to be more effective.

It’s a brilliant way to coach and train people.  It’s a fantastic way to get people to internalize the thought process and to get them to stretch themselves.

The same technique of asking 5 questions can be applied to about everything we do–whether it’s coaching in the development of a sales call plan, analyzing our pipelines, developing an account strategy, understanding the customer buying process, or virtually anything else. 

The other piece of brilliance in her approach was that initially, she focused on the 5 things she thought most important in developing and executing a sales strategy.  She didn’t pay attention to everything, expecting me to develop a comprehensive strategy, being able to crisply consider dozens of issues.  She focused  having me get the 5 things she considered most important.  She want me to think about them and execute them with precision.  When I had masted that, she moved to the next 5, then the next, until I had mastered everything in developing and executing high impact sales strategies.

None of us will ever get everything right at first, whether it’s a deal strategy, a forecast, a sales call plan.  Often the coaching we get is confusing.  At one point, we are coached on certain things, on the next different things, until all this valuable “advice” is whirling in our heads and we don’t remember what to do.

Mastery of anything is based on focusing on only a few things–working on those until you have internalized them and can execute them in your sleep.  Then moving on to the next set of things, and so on.

The 5 questions aren’t important.  Choosing the 5 you think are most significant, asking them over and over, until they are internalized, owned, and a natural part of what we do ensures we develop as sales professionals.  Then moving on to the next set.

If you are a manager and you want to accelerate the ability of your people to internalize and execute something, consider the 5 questions (or 3 or 4, but never more than 5) approach.  Whether its about sales strategies, call strategies, pipelines, product knowledge, whatever.  When you keep posing the same thing, your people will understand, “This is important, I better know the answers.”

What are your 5 questions?

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5 Comments
  1. Hey Dave,

    Once again you have put me to work!
    I’ll have to get right to it and start thinking about questions. I realize this is a VERY effective way of forcing our salespeople to analyze their opportunities.

    Thanks a lot for the advice my friend.

    //Daniel

    • Just some small wordsmithing Daniel. We are not forcing our people to do anything. We are helping them discover best practice–they take the journey, we just get them started. Regards, Dave

  2. Jennifer Viger permalink

    Dave I appreciate the wordsmithing around the word “force”. The purpose to have your sales people analyze thier opportunities in this way allows them to move the opportunity forward and perhaps even do this before their meeting with their manager. Trying to force a sales person without driving the value into the lesson is like walking into a sales call or picking up the phone without having an idea of what value you are bringing to your customers. Just an opinon from a “salesperson”
    Thanks for giving us all the opportunity to dig a little deeper.

    Jenn
    Acklands Grainger
    National Inside Account Manager

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