My message for sales professionals is simple: You’re a consultant, so behave like one. That means asking the right questions… then asking more questions … and even more questions …. until you fully understand what the buyer needs to be able to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be.
Here is a list of 100 classic “Sandler Questions” – five questions in twenty categories – that can get your creative juices going. The lists below do not follow any specific pattern, nor are the questions intended to be asked in the sequence below. My advice is that you use this list to help you identify your favorite 10-15 questions, and then practice them so you have them ready when you want to take charge of the interview – or for when you hear crickets and see the tumbleweeds rolling.
In posing these or any questions to a buyer, remember:
- Get the tonality right.
- Nurture, nurture, and then nurture some more.
- Thanks for inviting me over today, since we spoke on the phone has anything changed?
- Do we still have 45 minutes to try to understand whether or not we might be a good fit?
- Will you be comfortable me asking you lots of questions about (X)? You can ask me anything too, of course, fair?
- Help me see the world through your eyes: what key things can you tell me about the business?
- When we get to the end of the meeting if we’re both happy to move on to the next stage, and I have no idea what that might look like yet, let’s agree to scope it out and set a date in both of our calendars – that way we can make sure we stay on target. Fair?
To start the ball rolling…
- So, why have you invited me over today and how are you hoping I might be able to help?
- Most of our new clients tell us that they’ve never bought this kind of thing before. Would it make sense for me to tell you a little bit our organization and how we do things, then you can tell me about yours? Are you comfortable with that?
- When we spoke, you mentioned that (X) is an issue for you. How long have you been thinking about, or dealing with it?
- Most of our time is spent helping businesses like yours. tell me a little bit about how you go about dealing with (X) at the moment?
- Would it make sense to start by telling me what’s the single thing that gives you most concern about (X) right now?
Near the beginning…
- What were you hoping that I could do for you?
- When did you first decide that you should look into (X)?
- If you were to pick just one or two key things that you didn't like about your current solution or provider, what would it be?
- How would you rate things at the moment, from 1 – DISASTER, to 10 – PERFECT? (Whatever The answer, you say, “OK, why?”)
- If I didn’t think that I could help you, would you be OK, if I told you so; and will you be OK extending the same courtesy to me if you ever feel that I’m not the right fit for your needs too?
To test understanding…
- I don’t suppose you could give me a good example?
- Just tell me a little bit more about it.
- What do others in the department/company/office say about this issue?
- What surprises you most about this issue?
- Would it be fair to say that this issue is very difficult to objectively measure?
Near the middle…
- Where do you see the biggest need for improvement?
- I don’t suppose you’ve given much thought to what performance standards will you be using to measure success in this issue?
- What few things would prevent you from improving your current issue?
- What thought have you given to implementing a different solution?
- Let me take a moment to summarize what I think I’ve heard so far, so you can tell me if I’m on the right page. Fair?
Understanding the Pain…
- How serious would you say the problem is right now, today?
- What’s the real, real, real problem?
- Have you ever considered giving up on solving this issue?
- If the situation didn’t improve, or even got worse, how concerned do you imagine you or the business would be?
- What do you think this issue has cost the business over, say, the last (month/6 months/two years/whatever)?
When trying to understand the Budget…
- Typically, when we get to this stage, our clients tell us that they have no money in the budget for this kind of stuff. Am I right in assuming that this is the situation here too?
- I don’t suppose you’ve given any thought to what it might take in terms of investment to get this fixed for you, right?
- Think of hotels. Are you imagining a 3-star, 4-star, or 5-star budget to get this fixed? (When they answer, ask:) And that means what in terms of a range of price points?
- Where do you imagine the money for this kind of investment will come from, and whose money is it?
- Who controls the budget for this kind of issue? Shouldn’t they be involved in this process already?
Understanding who else should be involved…
- In my house there are some decisions that are mine, and some that are “ours,” if you get my drift. How would you describe this one for me?
- When a company such as yours usually buys this kind of stuff, for this kind of money, involving this sort of issue, or these many people, who has the final say?
- Who authorizes these kinds of decisions around here, and how long does it usually take? Is it like trying to get an octopus into a string bag?
- I don’t suppose you have any idea who else we should talk to about this before I go away and spend my time and resources in putting a proposal together? I really don’t want to waste anybody’s time, least of all mine.
- Tell me how to make sure that everyone that needs to see this, or comment, feels that they have had a chance to be heard. What should I do?
When you’re trying to understand the timescales…
- What time frame are you working towards? (Whatever they say, ask:) Why so soon?
- Have you seen an increase in these types of issues over the last few months? Help me to understand if things are getting worse, and if so, how quickly?
- If I said that we couldn’t possibly deliver this before (date), what do you think you’d do?
- What’s more important; cost or speed?
- When, in terms of a date, would you like to start to see or feel the benefits of implementing this new solution?
To get back on track when the interview is wandering…
- Tell me again about …
- What does your boss think about this situation?
- To be sure we get all your agenda on the table, what’s the next thing that’s concerning you most?
- Looking at the time we agreed for this meeting, what should we discuss next?
- I bet you can’t guess what surprised me most about what you said earlier. Can you?
To ask near the end…
- Considering all the things we have discussed so far, what am I missing, what have we left out?
- So far in our discussion, what one thing has most surprised you?
- Why, and under what circumstances, would you consider giving us the opportunity to address these issues for you?
- What would you say if I thought you could be doing things better?
- Which other suppliers are you also talking to about this at the moment?
When teeing things up for a referral…
- I’m guessing that you don’t know any other businesses like yours who are experiencing similar sorts of issues?
- Assuming that things go well, and you give us the order, what would be the best way for me to ask you for a referral at the end of all of this?
- My business is built on referrals, so I’m almost certainly going to ask you at some point for your help in that regard. If I forget to mention it, will you remind me?
- What would you need to see from me in order that you would almost certainly refer me to everyone you know?
- At the end of this process, let’s agree to take a look in our little black books and see if we can figure out a couple of great referrals for each other. Fair?
For meetings involving groups…
- Which of you called or arranged the meeting for us all today? Would it make sense for you to start by sharing what you might like us to address, think about, or discuss most today?
- What’s the one key issue that the group all believe needs addressing first?
- Typically, when ‘groups’ are involved in decisions such as this, it’s sometimes difficult to reach a timely consensus. Who’s really in charge or has the casting vote?
- Is the decision going to be decided by a vote, or, if not, what other method will you use to decide who gets assigned this project?
- It’s hard to present to a group: who’s really making this decision today? I’ll try to keep taking his/her temperature most. Is that fair?
When presenting your wares/solution/price…
- Before we continue, can we agree what the next step would be if you like what you see – and by “like,” I meant a solution that addresses all of the main points that we have discussed?
- How would you feel if I could show you a really perfect fix for this problem today?
- Before I show you our (X), let’s take a few moments to recap everything that you said so far, fair?
- I don’t suppose you have imagined what you’d like to see from me today, right?
- Is what you have seen close to what you had hoped I might show you?
If the buyer wants to “think it over”…
- That’s totally understandable, most of our customers need time to think it through. Could it be that you’re worried about the cost, the implementation programme, or not being too sure about what you’ve heard?”
- Hmm. If I believed that you were making the wrong decision, how might I tell you without you getting upset?
- Most of the time I hear, “Let me think about it”, what I’m really hearing is a, “No thanks” - is that what’s happening here?
- OK, well that makes sense, I think I’d be saying the same to you about now. What should we do next so that I properly understand when and if I should just close the file and move on?
- Makes sense. Tell me, if I don’t hear back from you by (date), what should I do?
When you feel they are shopping your price/expertise…
- Are you looking for the cheapest PRICE, or the cheapest COST to get the problem fixed?
- Are you likely to choose the lowest cost provider in this instance?
- If you could only have two, would you say you are looking for a ‘good’, ‘fast’, or ‘cheap’ solution?
- I don’t suppose you could share with me what prices you have had from others so far?
- If we can’t get to within, say, 15% of your target price, what will you do next? (Whatever answer you get, ask:) What is your target price, and where did it come from?
When the buyer gives you the ‘go-ahead’ (or order)…
- What do you imagine your bosses might say when you tell them that you have recommended us for the project?
- How do you feel about giving us the order, are you nervous about it at all?
- What was the single best thing that swung it for us?
- What do you imagine your biggest internal barriers to implementation might be?
- When would be the best time to meet to talk about the next similar issue on your radar?
When you think it’s a “No”…
- I get it, it’s over; let’s call off the dogs. Just before I go, where did I go wrong?
- I’m getting the feeling that it’s all over, am I right?
- Sounds to me that no matter what I said or what our solution could do for you, it still wouldn’t make any difference – am I right?
- I’m getting the impression that you’re going to either choose another supplier, or do nothing at this time; no hard feelings, such is life – what is the one thing you wanted to see that we couldn’t do for you?
- Thanks for telling me “no”, I really appreciate the honesty – when would be best for us to talk again?
When making a cold call…
- Would it be OK to take 30-seconds to tell you why I called, then you can decide whether it makes sense to continue?
- What have I said so far that sounded interesting?
- Who, other than you, would it be best for me to talk to?
- I’m going to give myself a note to call you again in …, is that OK? What should I do if I can’t get hold of you at that time?
- This is a cold call, shall I hang up first, or you?
Five strategic questions for senior executives…
- Let’s pretend that these issues were somehow magically solved right now, today; from your perspective alone, how much better would next 1, 3, and 5 years look?
- Do you think this is mainly a staff, skills, strategy, structure, or a sales issue?
- How much would you guess this problem has cost your business in terms of money, profit, time, resources, energy, people, meetings, remedial action, and consultants and so on over the last (three years)?
- How critical is it to fix this thing? And how would you rate its importance?
- When you look back five years, did you expect to be ahead of where you are today? If so, how far ahead, and in which ways?
Excerpted from Asking Questions the Sandler Way. Copyright © 2017, Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.