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My Favorite Sales Question: What's Changing?

Apr 2, 2008
I was 22 years old when I started helping Sr. level executives drive their business strategies more effectively. I didn't have any Answers.

Oh, I had access to a few answers -- and some very talented, seasoned consultants who knew exactly how to implement practical solutions that were saving organizations millions of dollars. At the same time, I'm sure you can imagine just how unreceptive C-Level execs would have been to this 22 year old kid (and the organization that had entrusted him to represent them) had I initially approached those relationships with an "I've Got Your Answer" mindset.

The only practical sales tool I had at my disposal was Asking Good Questions. In those days (before Al Gore invented the internet, and you could learn so much about a company right from your computer), you could get away with asking a lot of situational questions - and I think that's what most of my competitors must have been doing . . . asking a bunch of situational questions, and then jumping right into a sales presentation explaining how their solution was designed to help companies just like theirs.

Fortunately, I was representing a Change Management Consulting firm at the time -- so in order to have a meaningful conversation, I needed to know what changes the prospect was currently experiencing or anticipating in the near future. That one question, "What's Changing?" proved to be incredibly helpful for me and my prospects both.

I'm 44 now. The gray temples, 20 plus years of experience, and a pretty good (even google-friendly) reputation for knowing a thing or two about Leading People and Solving Sales Problems have afforded me some credibility. Most execs will initially give me the benefit of the doubt. And I do have some Answers - Answers most execs need . . . and candidly, several Answers to very serious challenges that I don't really need much information from the prospect in order to arrive at.

This presents an altogether different challenge than the one I faced early in my career - an ego-feeding, very seductive trap that I consistently struggle to avoid . . . giving answers to people who don't have questions.

I mention this because Asking Good Questions is more important to my success than ever before - and I'm finding that this particular question, "What's Changing?" is one of the most powerful, productive questions I can pose:

- There's always an answer

- The answer is different enough for each company, that the question is perceived as meaningful (even insightful)

- The answer is so subjective (uncovers perception unique to the individual) that I can ask it of everyone in the company

- The question provides the (much needed) opportunity for the prospect to practice articulating some key change messages

- The question so naturally breeds important conversation around implications and consequences

- The question produces still more (meaningful) questions in the prospect's mind ** -- creates one or more of those "coachable moments" so critical to consultative sales.

** This is when (actually, it's the only time when) your hard-earned experience, your superior product knowledge -- your ideal solutions -- hold any genuine value for the prospect. And I'd wager that once these two conditions are met: 1) You know the prospect's perspective on what's changing in their world, and 2) the prospect has begun to ask themselves some meaningful questions about meeting the challenges those changes present . . . that your conversations will become far more productive, and your counsel far better received.

For me at least . . . If I can get the prospect to tell me What's Changing, and to demonstrate even a little bit of curiosity about how to deal with it . . . I know I can help them - and I know they're much more likely to let me help them. I'll bet the same is true for you.

Try it . . . Ask "What's Changing?" in your next few sales calls / client meetings, and let me know how it goes for you. In fact, share your story with us at stone@marketmate.org.
About the Author
Stone Payton is a Sales & Marketing Troubleshooter specializing in helping organizations Solve Their Sales Problem. "The Most Candid Consultant On The Planet," and the man who literally wrote the book on SPEEDŽ, Stone plys his craft at: http://www.marketmate.org and http://stonesells.blogspot.com/
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