What keeps me up at night None of your business

June 8, 2012
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Salespeople (not you, of course) are known for asking poor questions — questions that are not only embarrassing, but also rude. And I would be remiss if I didn't add: questions that make them appear desperate and pressing for a sale.

The dumbest question in sales is "What will it take to get your business?" It's by far the worst question you can ask a customer. It makes you a price seller rather than a value provider, and it makes you look like you "need" the sale rather than want to earn and grow a relationship.

Reality: There is a close second to the dumbest question, and it's the subject of this article. "What keeps you up at night?" Are you kidding me? None of your business, that's what!

  You're at the beginning of a sales call, trying to build positive rapport and earn some level of like and trust, and you're asking me that kind of question? It's almost as dumb as trying to "find the pain." Please don't get me started on 1972 sales manipulation and insincerity.

Why not ask the prospect a question that relates to their real life, and their present situation, that's potentially more revealing than a Miss America question?

Major "aha!" question: What wakes you up in the morning?

It's a positive-based question that, when asked with a smile, will get you real answers, real facts and reveal real truths. It's light-hearted, but powerful and when followed up with "what else" or "then what," it will create a dialog that is totally customer focused  — thereby achieving the purpose of the interaction.

Think of all these answers in terms of yourself, first. What wakes you up? It reveals your top-of-mind thoughts, issues, concerns, goals, problems and attitude toward them. Got it? Now direct them at the customer or prospect and listen to the eye-popping, ear de-waxing and self-qualifying answers.

Here are some possible answers to the question and what to do with them:

• Light of day. Easy answer. Leads to "Then what?"

• Alarm clock. Another easy answer. Still leads to "Then what?"

• Kids. Great answer! Leads to all kinds of mutual discussion points and common interests if you also have them.

• Relationships. A bit touchy. Let the prospect lead.

• Coffee, shower, exercise, the news. These subjects will provide more superficial answers that might reveal things in common.

• The day and things to be done. People will make their day more important than your day. And you'll feel it when they chatter and complain about "having so much to do."

Now let's take it deeper. Asking the "then what?" question will get them to the next phase of their reality. It started out light, now it gets to some real issues. You might ask, "What else wakes you up?" or the more powerful, "Then what?" They might say:

• Money, or the lack of it. Think of this one in terms of yourself. Go lightly, but it's very revealing.

• Health issues. If they have a physical ailment or some medical condition, it may impact their attention span or decision-making capability.

• Pain. If they're in pain, then the pain will affect concentration and span of attention.

• Energy/positive anticipation. This is great. An enthusiastic person can connect with your compelling presentation and catch your positive feelings.

• All the stuff he or she is excited about. These are golden issues that need to be embellished and compared to what it will be like when your stuff gets its chance.

• Big issues. IRS, business failure, damaged reputation, lawsuits. A pending merger or pending big order could be a positive light.

• Business issues. The day-to-day often gets in the way of the month-to-month and the year-to-year. Stay away from the mundane, and be aware of the complainer.

• Personal issues. Family and relationship issues can have a real impact (either way) on your meeting outcome — pending marriage or pending divorce?

• Career issues. Work, boss, sales, people and events can have huge implications on your need to do something today.

• Nagging issues (worries). These are elements that slow down the actions a business is willing to take. If you know what they are, you'll be less likely to be impatient and more likely to create a winning plan to make the sale.

• Unfinished issues. Stuff undone. "Wait until after …" are defeating words to the ears of salespeople. But if you know what they are, you can get a better sense of "when?"

• Projects underway. Most people are limited in the amount of work and projects they can take on. When your customer dwells on "present situation" and "major project," you can expect postponement. Make sure you nail down expected completion date.

• Deadlines. If it's close, you're toast. And the best thing you can do is offer assistance.

• If the prospect or customer answers: The reality of: get my ass in gear. This doesn't address any issues and is really skirting the question. You might ask "For what?"

Major clue: Don't overdo the process. Ask a few questions, gain a few answers, and move on. As a result, you have some new information, maybe some common interests, a few smiles, and certainly a thinking prospect. I made you think, didn't I? You can do the same with your prospect. Stay away from the defensive-based questions, and your responses will lead you down the right path — the business relationship and mutual respect path.

Jeffrey Gitomer's website, www.gitomer.com, has more information about training and seminars, or e-mail him at salesman@gitomer.com

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