I have been lucky enough to have been in Sales Management for 5 Fortune 500 Companies for over 25 years. In that time, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some truly incredible salespeople. I’ve enjoyed watching and coaching literally thousands of sales presentations. Some of those presentations have been quite good, some of them truly excellent. A reasonable number have been average, and an unfortunately, too many of them have been forgettable. I have also studied literally dozens of sales processes that are taught across all industries ranging from Integrity Selling, Solutions selling, 5 step selling, AID-INC, and many others. While I do believe that having a sales process that you leverage to model your message on an ongoing basis is vital to be effective (it’s not about relationships anymore, people), there is one glaring error that I see more than any other that leads to failure in sales. People are afraid to ask the hard question. They are afraid to ask for action. They are afraid to ask for a commitment. Why is that? The reason is because we all like to be comfortable. We like to make others comfortable, especially customers. And we certainly don’t like to make them feel uncomfortable. We want them to welcome us back.
Eight years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a veteran professional named Tim who taught me one of the most valuable, yet subtle sales techniques that I had ever seen. This approach always led to him asking the difficult question in a sales situation, while never making the customer feel uncomfortable, or pushing them beyond their limits. Just before he needed to close for action, he would say to the customer, “do you mind if I ask you a candid question?” Now think about that. No reasonable person is going to say no to that question. And no reasonable person will take offense to that question. When the customer said, “of course not”, Tim would proceed to asking the hard question. Almost without exception, Tim got an answer. And even if the question was a little more direct than usual, he was “covered” because he asked for permission to ask that question first. He didn’t close every sale, but he never avoided the attempt. Importantly, the relationship was always preserved and mutual professional respect was established.
Before you ask the hard question, ask for permission to ask it.