A challenge that exists for many salespeople is how to ask for and get information when a prospect doesn’t necessarily want to give it to you or says they can’t. For example when selling a product / service against an incumbent supplier it is important that the salesperson identifies what they are currently buying and what they pay for it. Many salespeople believe in the myth that you can’t ask a question about what a prospect pays. “It’s wrong to do that”, they’ll say, “And anyway, even if I did ask them they wouldn’t tell me”, usually follows as their justification for not doing their job as well as they can.
In my experience prospects don’t take offence. Sometimes they’ll tell us the information we are looking for and in others they won’t, and when they don’t we still have every chance to get the information we seek using what I call the ‘gondola technique’. If ever you’ve seen gondoliers on the Grand Canal in Venice they have a long pole which they push down in the water until they touch the bottom of the canal. When they find the bottom they push on the pole to propel the gondola where they wish it to go. The only thing they have to determine is how far is the bottom of the canal is so they can hold the pole in the right place, and no doubt each time they go out for the first time each day they’ll have a ‘level test’ where they’ll hold the pole too high and/or too low until they adjust and get it right.
For a salesperson it is the same – our job is to find the information and we use questioning to locate it by testing for the level (like the oarsman uses the pole on a gondola). Using the above example where we need to understand something particular, like the price when the prospect won’t give it, we can suggest a series of prices until we find a level the prospect agrees to. In this case the conversation will go something like this:
Salesperson: “How much do you pay for that at the moment?”
Prospect: “I couldn’t tell you … I don’t really know”
Salesperson: “Well if I said you pay £10* each would that be okay?” (It is important here we suggest something we believe to be on the high side)
Prospect: “Oh no … it’s not that much!” (yet remember before they said they didn’t know – it’s interesting that they can now say that £10 each is too much!)
Salesperson: “And if I reduced that to £7 each would that be okay?” (note the use of a limited reduction – the amount of which can be judged by the strength of the prospect’s reaction to the higher price before)
Prospect: “It’s not quite as low as that it is more like £8 each” (not bad for someone who didn’t know before!)
Salesperson: “Great! So you currently pay around £8 each”
Prospect: “Yes. That’s right.”
Level found, and we have the information we need to move on and determine if we have a realistic chance of selling something. Now we can structure our sales argument and use the applicable features, advantages and benefits to demonstrate that our product / service offers sufficient value for money to help the prospect decide to choose to do business with us.
The ‘gondola technique’ can be used for all sorts of topics (i.e. delivery time, specification ambiguities, minimum order or schedule quantities, etc…). All you have to do is put your pole in, test to find the bottom and learn where the correct level is.
Learn how the most successful salespeople sell using questions and do so in a way that customers and prospects choose to work with them, so you can achieve better results now! Click here for details on my ebook Questioning Skills module.