Picture you are about to begin a group presentation and you have been given a set time limit. You have a lot of things you’ve prepared to show them. You’ve already talked to some of the stakeholders, so you know a lot about their needs. Just because you’ve been trained to never start a meeting without asking questions, you check your enthusiasm and ask at least two or three. One of the attendees, let’s just say it’s the ultimate decision-maker, answers your questions with short, straight-forward answers. Super! That leaves more time for your awesome presentation where the prospect will be won over. Or will they?
Basketball coaches are very critical of their players if they run back to setup on offence before they know if the opponent’s shot went in the basket. What if there had been a chance to grab the defensive rebound? Players already at the other end of the court miss that opportunity. This imagery comes to mind when I hear a rep doing a good job asking questions to establish need at the beginning of a sales meeting, but as each question is answered they write down the answer and move on. What if the client gives a vague or incomplete answer? What if the missing piece is critical to know before you position your product? Asking a rebound question to get them to go a little more in depth or to clarify their response can put you in a position to win the deal.
I always find it a little awkward to ask questions to establish need in a group presentation. Inevitably, with a whole room waiting for you to begin, the person that does give you the response keeps it short and sweet. After all, they too are waiting to see what you’ve got to show them. But short answers leave room for interpretation, and when there is room for interpretation there’s room to screw up the sales pitch.
I happened to see a good example of this recently. The rep handled the group environment well, and drew out one of the participants to answer each of her questions. The product being demoed is one that some publishers sell as a comprehensive kit, and others will produce specialized pieces and let district source the other parts from multiple vendors. So you can imagine reps on either side of this–the comprehensive kit people and the parts and pieces people–each sell not only their product line, but the advantage of the way it’s sold. In this case, the rep asked what they were currently using and received a short answer that the district currently owned one piece of the kit. She said, “Terrific, you are going to really like the fact we sell the other part and you can keep your current part in place.” Then she moved on and did a wonderful job presenting. But I had this nagging question. What if as part of their current search they want to replace that part as well?
I asked the rep this afterward and as I tend to do, I induced horror. I mean, it was an obvious follow up to ask, “And are you happy with it or are you also looking to replace that piece?” But she realized that she is so conditioned to have to explain the advantage of using a group of specialized vendors vs. a comprehensive kit from one vendor, she assumed that because they owned it they were happy and keeping it. She would have positioned the product totally differently and probably asked several more questions if she had learned they were shopping for multiple parts at once. They would then be a natural fit for a comprehensive solution which she’d need to explain the disadvantages of.
In the scheme of things, her assumption was probably the correct one and there was likely no disaster here. But we’re all wondering now aren’t we? None of us like to leave something that big to chance, so it’s a great teaching moment to show why we should make it a habit to always ask a follow up after every answer we receive. Even if it a client’s answer was unambiguous, you can always ask “tell me more about that,” or “why is that?” as a rebound question. You’ll be shocked how much more detail you get after the rebound vs. the original question they’ve just answered. And of course if the answer was ambiguous like the one above, you could be getting the critical key to unlocking success in the sale.
For additional reading, try “Why Ask Why?”