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What Questions Are You Asking Your People?

by David Brock on February 15th, 2013

Sales managers have a great deal of influence on the behavior of their people just by the questions they ask.  Any self respecting sales person doesn’t want to look like a fool to the manager.  So if you consistently ask certain questions, they will quickly understand and come prepared to answer the questions.

So that’s the good news ……  and the bad news.

It turns out, too often, managers are asking the wrong questions and, as a result, driving the wrong behaviors with their people.  One of the biggest mistakes are the two questions, too many managers ask over and over:  “When are you getting the order?  How much will it be?”

We know the behavior that drives in sales people, they immediately go to their customers asking, “When am I going to get the order and how much?”  They may soften it with the excuse, “My manager’s putting me under a lot of pressure!”

So if we know our questions, as managers, are going to drive the behaviors of our sales people, imagine what would happen if we started asking them different questions.  What if we started asking:

What’s the compelling business issue that’s driving the customer to consider a change?

What are the big things happening in their business that is impacting their performance?  How can we help?

How are they going to justify this to their managers?

What are the consequences of doing nothing?

What are we helping them achieve that they cannot get from anyone else?

Who’s involved in making the decision?

What is their buying process?  How are they aligning the diverse interests in their organization to make a decision?

You see where I’m going, our questions, as managers, have tremendous power in shaping how our sales people show up in front of the customer.  So we have to make sure we are asking them the right questions!

We can apply this to all aspects of selling–whether it’s our deal strategies, sales calls, territory and account plans, prospecting, pipeline management.  Sales people want to be able to respond to the questions.  They want to look good in front of managers (if not their customers).  Or they may just want to get the managers off their backs.

So if you aren’t seeing the behaviors you want, consider thinking about the questions you are asking.  After all, that’s a large part of what’s driving their behaviors.

Stumped on the questions you should be asking?  Here’s a “cheat sheet” for you—look at your sales process.  Your sales process identifies the critical buying/selling activities that must take place to maximize your ability to win, as well a reduce the sales cycle.  Let those activities be the clue for the questions you should be asking.  This does lots of fantastic things–it gets your people asking the questions of their customers–or looking for the information that enables them to respond to your questions.  And it gets them using the sales process—which is what you are trying to do in the first place?

What questions are you asking your people?

Are you getting the answers you want?

  1. Great advice Dave! This is a good coaching technique, it causes the salesperson to think about where they are with their deal. It can be combined with a companion question “So what …”. I once had a sales manager who used this technique, and after you got over the immediate reaction of “death by a thousand questions” you realized that he was patiently taking you through a thinking process. After a few sessions like this I came to the realization that I could do this on my own prior to our Reviews and make their focus a discussion on strategies.

    • Dean, thanks for the great comment. The magic of the sales manager consistently asking these questions is that it shapes behaviors–getting sales people to do/think exactly as you describe.

      It’s great to see you here again!

  2. Learn to ask the right questions for powerful results – Nadler & Chandon –

  3. David,

    Thanks so much. This serves as a great reminder and I have forwarded this on to others. I believe I have asked these questions many times and have impacted behavior without realizing I was doing that. I also know I have fallen into the “how much” and “when” questions when another question would have been better. I do think there is still a place for the how much and when questions when asked infrequently with purpose. I had a team that needed to instill more urgency and focus related to the company revenue goals. This team needed me to ask how much and when to build urgency, but I agree if I did not include the questions we want them to ask prospects, it would not results in more biz. Your blog helps me be more aware of what I am asking and make sure it is consistent with the behavior I am working to instill.

    I am a big believer in practicing fundamentals

    If you don’t mind I will probably add a little punch to the areas of my fundamentals related to question asking.

    Great stuff.

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