In a sales conversation sometimes it can be really difficult to ask the exact questions you need to.
That was the situation facing a team of financial planners I recently spoke with. They were facing a particular segment of unengaged clients and they wanted to know how they could create more engagement and generate interest in the value of what they offer.
Part of their problem – and this is common for many sellers, especially in expertise-based businesses – was they were too focused on trying to “create” an engaged client and then moving on to explain what they could do for them.
Client engagement is a by-product
The way I see it, an engaged client is the by-product of how you handle the sales conversation. You can’t just create engagement on its own.
To be able to ask the deeper, more personal, more revealing, and more confronting questions that you really need to explore with the client to identify what motivates them and what they value (specifically for them) you have to start at a less intrusive level.
Start general, then progress towards specific
This gives your client time to understand you.
From the client/prospect’s perspective they need:
- Time to get to know you during the early part of conversation.
- Time to listen to how you express yourself.
- Time to think about what you are saying, even when the conversation is still at a general level and you as the ‘expert’ may think there is not much for them to think about.
That’s why the strategy of asking a few cursory questions of the client, which can easily appear insincere, before jumping straight into the meat of the conversation (from your perspective) is counterproductive.
To you – as the seller – it might seem like you’re getting to the point.
But initially the ‘point’ for your client/prospect is about whether they want to listen to you or not.
It’s not about the content of what you are saying. Not yet.
General questions create a safe space
By starting the conversation with general questions you can create a ‘safe space’ for the client to get to know you. And that safe space can be an important step in the trust building process. By using active listening skills and sharing appropriate information you can quietly demonstrate your expertise as well as show sincere interest in their situation, their history, and their point of view.
General questions can usually be connected to the ‘big picture’ of the clients situation.
For my financial planning group mentioned above, the big picture is the employer with whom the planning firm has a partnership and the reasons for the employer providing this service for their employees. This is a topic the client should be aware of, but they may not understand the reasons behind it.
Importantly the big picture segment of the conversation should not contain any content the client will find personally confronting or invasive. The conversation is intentionally directed at a third party (that is, not you or the client), or a situation, with whom you can both have a viewpoint and therefore have something to discuss.
Personal questions make it relevant
Then, when it is time, make a transition to the more personal segment of the sales conversation. During this phase you could address the factors, issues or reasons that this (your service/product) is important for your client.
At this point you have the opportunity to connect the potential benefits of your services with what this client may be needing. You can start to demonstrate relevance. You can focus the conversation on what they can achieve.
Specific questions dig deeper
Once you have covered the relevant topics you are ready to make the transition to the deeper, potentially confronting questions. Typically, the client will need to have a degree of trust in you before they are willing to fully answer these types of questions. That is why your sales conversation question strategy should introduce these questions after:
- The client has had time to focus, and
- Has heard more from you, and
- Has had time to get to know you (even just a little bit).
As a seller it’s easy to feel the pressure – often self-imposed – to move the conversation forward more quickly than you should. It can feel awkward for the conversation to slow down or stall on certain topics. Maybe the client needs time to think. Or you need time to revisit previous answers. Maybe you need to repeat some information you had shared earlier in the discussion.
Don’t rush the process
Take your time to conduct an effective sales conversation which enables the client to understand and trust you, and simultaneously enables you to get the detailed information you need to properly provide your solution or recommendations.
If you would like to discuss options for helping your team to have more effective sales conversations get in touch and we’ll set up an obligation-free consultation.