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The Sales Japan Series - 203: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part Two)

203: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part Two)

The Sales Japan Series

In Part One, we looked at the difficulties the modern communication platforms throw up because of the limitations of the technology, in particular, the poor audio quality. Now we move forward to how we ask the questions and what we should ask. Our client has various needs and we have to uncover them and the way to do that is ask questions. This would seem the most obvious thing in the world. Yet there are legions of the great unwashed, hapless salespeople wandering around, spending all of their time pitching to clients. There are in tell mode to sell, as opposed to using questions to sell.

The client has some top of mind needs that revolve around them achieving the outcomes they desire. We need to understand what results the client is looking for. In the classic example, clients don’t buy drills. They buy results - holes. They want to hit targets, gain market share, increase revenues, manage costs, improve their systems, etc.

There will be some buying criteria involved. Budget is often what we think of here. We want to know how much budget they have and then we can cut our cloth to match. We should never forget that time and quality are also going to be key components here as well. We need to find out more on these fronts. A client assured me they had no budget for our training. Digging in, I found they did have budget if we spread the payment over two financial years. It wasn’t money, it was time, in this case.

Practical details need to be found. These are often the spec components of design, shape, colour, size, weight, durability, etc. Do we actually have what they need or not? If we don’t, then stop trying to slam the square peg into the round hole baby and move on. Find that client whose needs profile better matches what we do best.

Although we are dealing with company representatives, they also have personal needs. What is their WHY? It could be to keep their boss happy, to rise through the ranks, to get a big bonus, to snag a promotion, to be appreciated, etc. We need to know that, because if we can frame our solution in terms of their WHY, then that is a very powerful differentiator from our rivals.

We go through question phases to uncover these pieces of information. We can start by getting them focused on the gap between where they are now and where they need to be. We can ask, “where would you like to be in six to twelve months from now?”. The focus here is on outcomes. To gauge the gap, our next question will be, “given those goals, where are you today?”. Now we can find out if there is an opening here for us or not.

I had been chasing a buyer for seven straight years with no results. It was a highly profitable business. The President wouldn’t even agree to meet with me and then he suddenly retired. I thought “bingo” – time to try again with the new guy. While I was sitting there in the meeting going through this discovery process, the most unpleasant idea occurred to me. “He thinks they can close the gap between where they are now and where they want to be by themselves through their internal resources”. I call that an extremely bad meeting. There was no way into that company for me, because I didn’t have a solution they needed.

Trust me, I tried to make that gap between where they are now and where they want be seem like the Grand Canyon. Ultimately I failed to do that and so no deal and sayonara. What we are trying to do in this step is flesh out the negative implications for the company, if they don’t buy our solution. Company representatives often mistakenly think that taking no action has no cost. That is not true. There are the opportunity costs associated with no action. Markets move, business is fluid, nothing stays the same. They are also not operating in a vacuum, where their competitors are in some form of cryogenic suspended animation.

Once we know where they are today and where they want to be, we need to understand what is the change they need to make to close the gap. If they think they can make that change by themselves, it is curtains for us. If we are able to find a reason to supply the change methodology they need, then we need to go for gold. We need to find out that invididual’s personal WHY.

This is very difficult with Japanese buyers. Even at the conceptual level, this is not something they easily grasp. When your career progression is based on age and stage, unrelated to the outcomes you produce and you get a set bonus the same as everyone else, the personal payoff is bit opaque. In Japan it will usually be personal recognition by their team or their peers, as someone doing their job well. So we need to ask things like, “If we can achieve the outcomes you have mentioned, how will that make your team members feel?”, “If this works, will your team appreciate the results it brings, making their job easier?”, “If this is a success, will your colleagues be appreciative?”.

In Part Three, we will ex...

09/15/20 • 14 min

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