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Three Questions

by David Brock on July 6th, 2009

Last week, I published a post: First, Let Your Customer Finish Their Sentence, Then Ask Three Questions. In it, I addressed an issue that very experienced sales professionals often have—that is, being so “prepared” to provide solutions that they never give their customers a chance to tell their story.

Not only is interrupting offensive to customers, but it presents the opportunity to miss a lot in really understanding what they want and need. I suggested sales people would be better off, letting customer complete their sentences and tell their stories. I also suggested that sales people follow up with three questions.

I taunted my readers with guessing what those questions might be, asking you to email me if you wanted my version of the three questions. Since then, I have been inundated with ideas and emails. There have been some exciting offline conversations. To some degree, I am sorry to have taken such an interesting conversation off line and intend to fix that in this post.

So what are the “three questions?” I’m not sure there is a right answer to this. Also, these three questions will be just the beginning of a conversation in which you will want to engage your customers—hopefully you will ask many more as you probe.

When a customer has described a situation, issue, or problem, generally, the 3 key questions I tend to think of are:

1. What is the impact of this issue on you and on the business? It is important to explore the impact both from a personal and business point of view. Try to quantify this impact because it becomes a key element of your value proposition. Drill down and make sure you really understand the impact of this issue.

2. If this issue were to be resolved, what would the impact be on you and the business? This may sound a little redundant to the first question, but here you are trying to explore new opportunities or things they can do if the problem is eliminated. Generally, people are so focused on problems, they become blinded to what the problems are keeping them from doing. This is an area of tremendous opportunity for the customer and asking this question gives you the chance to explore these opportunities. Again, try to quantify so that, because this is part of your value proposition.

3. In terms of all the things that you are working on, where is this in your priorities? If it isn’t in their top 3-5 priorities, it will never get done. As sales people, we tend to leap on issues that we can address. Customers tend to let us continue to discuss those issues, even if they are a low priority. For us to make a sale, generally, we have to be in the top priority of issues they are addressing.

For those of you that have had any type of “SPIN Training,” you will recognize these questions as a variant of the SPIN approach.

Does this make sense? Would you take a different tact?

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  1. Abdul Habboub permalink

    In the event that the issue being addressed is not in the top 3-5 priorities for this customer, what should be the next steps?

    I understand and appreciate the fact that time should not be wasted on an issue that is most likely not to be acted upon since it lacks priority for the customer however, will treating it as a priority not ensure that the customer will come to you once the issue at hand requires immediate action? or do you perhaps have a different approach and try to make the customer realize why this matter should be a top 5 priority?

    I apologize if i sound inexperienced but i am, and that is why I ask questions.

    • Abdul: Actually you raise a fundamental question–what do we do if the issue being addressed is not in the top 3-5 customer priorities? This is where the sales professional as a trusted adviser can really make a difference. Sometimes, if we help the customer look at their business differently, their priorities change. Great sales people help their customers understand new ways of running their business or new opportunities that can be addressed. They present these to the customer and paint a picture of a different future.

      If there is a legitimate different point of view and different set of priorities, it is the responsiblity of the sales person to present it. If it is simple manipulation, the customer will see it. At the end, if the the issues we can address are not in their top priorities, then we are probably wasting their time and ours.

      Thanks for the great question! It shows great insight.

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