Why open answers kill your sales opportunities

On day one of sales training I expected you were told you have two ears and one mouth for a reason – you can sell more by listening. They explained how to ask open, rather than closed questions to get the prospect talking. Then there was the part about solutions rather than products, because our product is more than just a product, it helps the customer achieve something else. All good.

So we go out to visit a customer, and ask all the right questions. But do they give us the right answers, and if not what do we do about it? I was watching one of Keenan’s amusing short videos which brought this to my attention. He was challenging us not to accept open answers to open questions. He is right, it is too easy to do that. For example, we ask our customer “What is your key business objective this year?” (Full marks, a simple open question). The customer replies “Growth”. We write that into our Key Account Plan and go away happy that we know the customer’s key business driver.

Keenan says (or shouts) “NO”. You have just accepted an Open Answer! It is vague, unspecific and un-measurable. If that happens, start the Probing Questions. Ask what they mean by growth, by how much and when. How will they achieve it and what are the rewards? If you had attended one of my Communication Workshops you would be a master at questioning techniques, and this is why these are so important.

We can add something else from our business management toolkit which will be very useful here. In planning, we use SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based). In sales conversations we need to look for SMART answers to our open questions. We can continue the conversation until we have more tangible facts that we can use to help us build a very compelling value proposition for the customer. Instead of just writing “Growth” in the Account Development Plan, we can now see that they are intending to put another £2million (Measurable) on the revenue line (Specific) within one year (Time-based), by extending their product line into an emerging technology within their existing market (Realistic), where they believe they have the lead already (Achievable). All boxes ticked, and if we can help them achieve the £2million growth then suddenly we have a whole different conversation to have instead of protecting our product price compared to the competition.

Thank you Keenan for that great tip!

You can find Keenan on LinkedIn.

Neville Merritt