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The Sales Japan Series - 202: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part One)

202: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part One)

The Sales Japan Series

Salespeople’s bad habits just migrate right across to the online world. If you were just pitching your product before, hoping to snag a deal, you will be doing the same thing when staring at the client on screen. It didn't work well then and it doesn’t improve in the new environment. For the more professional salespeople, who actually understand sales and the key role that questioning skills play, the game has changed. We have to change the way we do things too.

One of the biggest problems associated with asking questions is getting the answer. In the meeting room location, we have perfect audio quality. Okay, we will get clients who are hard to follow, because their own communication skills are so poor, but at least we can hear them. All of these modern virtual meeting platforms have poor audio, so just catching the answer can be a struggle. This is particularly so, if you are dealing in foreign languages. When they speak English or when I speak Japanese, we have to both expect that there is another level of complexity associated with actually hearing what is being said.

The virtual world is nirvana for multi-taskers. Don’t become one of them when speaking with the client. Watch the buyer like a hawk, wear a head set, remove all distractions, shift forward in your seat, lean in toward the client on screen.

It is tough to discern it on screen, but check their body language for incongruent messages. This is when they are saying one thing, but doing another thing that negates what they are saying. Tatemae statements or superficial truths are a classic example of this incongruency.

The other tricky part with the audio is if two people speak at the same time, no one can hear clearly what is being said. Salespeople are rabid interrupters and jumper-inners. They talk over the top of the client when something the buyer said, sparks a thought in their minds. The Japanese language has the verb at the end, so we have to wait until the speaker tells us whether this is present, past or future tense, positive or negative. That helps when speaking in Japanese, because it forces us to refrain for jumping in. In English though, the gloves are off and it becomes a shambles, when we speak over the top of the buyer.

The other salesperson bad habit is leaping ahead of the buyer, anticipating what they are going to say, formulating a response while they are still speaking and then jumping in with your two bits worth. The issue here is that the formulation process tends to be internal and we cease listening to what the buyer is actually saying in detail. By that, I mean not just hearing the words in the background, but really studying their choice of words, the tone of voice, the emphasis points, noticing what they are not saying, etc.

Because of the difficulty of the audio on these platforms, we really have to spend a lot more time clarifying what the buyer is saying. Normally, if we do this once or twice, no one gets upset. However, with a heavy repetition, we may find the buyer gets annoyed. Instead we need to tell them that, because of the importance of what they are saying and the fact there are audio issues around clarity, you will be asking them for clarification a lot more than normal. You will also note that you will be doing a lot more paraphrasing of what they have said, to make sure we have a perfect understanding of what their needs are. Do this up front and therefore head off client irritation with your attempts to make sure of the messages.

Also, if dealing with Japanese buyers, absolutely ask for permission to ask questions. Getting questioned by a salesperson is a first for most buyers, trained over many years by dud salespeople who just gave their pitch. Expect resistance, unless you get their permission first. This is how hard it is, say: “Maybe we can help you, I am not sure, but in order for me to understand if that is possible, would you mind if I asked a few questions?”. Doing this will save a lot of unnecessary cultural faux pas with buyers.

Work on the assumption the audio is going to be a big problem and then prepare countermeasures to eliminate that issue. Your competitors will just be blundering away making it hard for themselves. Here is a chance to steal a march on your rivals.

09/08/20 • 13 min

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