Good Sales People Help Prospects Answer One Question – “What’s in it for me?”

Soft Selling in a Hard World: Plain Talk on the Art of Persuasion by Jerry Vass is one of the more popular books among the salespeople here at Balto. Of its many draws, the most significant is it’s simple approach to selling through intentional, step-by-step, customer-focused questions, predicated on the idea that buyers frame sales decisions around a basic sales question – “what’s in it for me?”

On the sales side of things, probing sales questions are one of the most effective ways to help prospects answer that question. As Soft Selling in a Hard World artfully explains, sales probes “flank the buyer’s armor” by forcing them to think about their problems in new and interesting ways. Doing so reduces the chances that the prospect automatically says “no” and allows them to open up about their challenges. As a result, they are more likely to engage in a meaningful sales conversation with the salesperson.

Further, salespeople can’t effectively force an answer on the prospect through a sales pitch because prospects are tired of hearing sales pitches and automatically become defensive when listening to one. Instead, prospects must conclude that the solution makes sense on their own, in accordance with their own logic and reasoning. The sales probes outlined in Soft Selling in a Hard World are designed to guide the prospect through that reasoning.

Here they are, broken down by category:

Standard Probes: Great for Starting Sales Conversations

Standard Probes are an effective way to begin a sales conversation because they require that the prospect talks openly about his or her challenges. For this reason, standard probes, like all probes, are largely open-ended questions. For some salespeople, the idea of prospects talking openly is a scary thought (“won’t I lose control of the sales conversation?”). On the contrary, talkative prospects are far more likely to elaborate on their challenges in great detail, which the salesperson can then methodically address.

Some examples of Standard Probes are:

  • “May I ask you what kind of solution you are currently using?”
  • “What kind of challenges do you usually experience in this area?”
  • “In your opinion, what are the biggest drivers of this particular challenge?”
  • “In particular, what bothers you most about this problem?”
  • “What kind of solutions have you seen successfully address this problem in the past?”
  • “What are your biggest strengths in this area? Conversely, what are your biggest challenges?”
  • “How do you usually address this problem?”
  • “How are buying decisions usually made?”
  • “Why do you feel hesitant about solving this challenge?”

Best of All Worlds Probes: Great for Getting the Prospect to Open Up

The Best of All Worlds probe challenges the prospect to imagine an ideal solution if time and money were no object. In doing so, prospects open up about their broadest, most imaginative ideas, which the salesperson can then map back to his or her own offering. The Best of All Worlds probe overcomes the standard timing (“I don’t have time”) objections and budget (“I don’t have the money”) objections which often stop prospects from even thinking about fixing the problem in the first place. By asking a Best of All Possible world probe, the salesperson can promote a far more meaningful sales conversation.

Some examples of Best of all Worlds probes are:

  • “If money were no object, what would you do to solve this problem?”
  • “In a perfect world, how would you solve this problem?”
  • “What are the qualities of a perfect solution?
  • “If solving this problem was completely in your control, what would you do?”
  • “In your opinion, what does an ideal solution look like?”
  • “If you had all the time in the world, what you do to solve this problem?”

Emergency Probes: Great for Getting Salespeople out of Trouble

Emergency probes are meant to bail salespeople out of trouble should the sales conversation trend in a less-than-desirable direction. Emergency probes reverse the sales conversation by requiring the prospect to answer a question. Ideally, the prospect will outline the steps to rectifying the situation, which the salesperson follows to can regain footing in the sales conversation.

Some examples of Emergency Probes are:

  • “Is there is anything that I can do in order to make you feel better about this situation?”
  • “I am very sorry to hear that. What can I do to improve?”
  • “I am sorry for misunderstanding you. Please give me a chance to get on the right track with you.”
  • “Let me clarify the most important thing that bothers you right now. I will try to do my best in order to resolve it for you.”
  • “I am very sorry to know that this is how you feel. Let’s go over this situation again and try to resolve this together.”
  • “I totally understand. Let’s work through this together.

Status Quo Probes: Great for Overcoming the Most Common Sales Objection of All

Status Quo Probes are designed to overcome the most common sales objection of all – “We don’t need a new solution, we are fine the way we are.” In these cases, it’s important to remember that the prospect isn’t wrong – in all likelihood, the prospect will be just fine without the particular product or service offering. It makes sense that they default to this objection without much thought. However, effective Status Quo Probes force the prospect to think beyond their current situation. Even if things are going well now, couldn’t they be better? And if things aren’t going well, wouldn’t the prospect want to improve them?

Some examples of Status Quo probes are:

  • “I don’t want to change something that’s working. However, some people find that examining another service helps them evaluate their current provider, even if they don’t ultimately switch.”
  • “No problem at all, I’m glad things are going well. What kind of improvements would a new service need to have for you to consider it?”
  • “Thanks for letting me know. If you don’t mind me asking, what criteria did you use to evaluate your current provider?”
  • “Sometimes looking at other solutions helps you negotiate a better price with your current provider. Would you be open to discussing our pricing to see if it’s competitive with your current service provider?”

A Final Thought:

You’ll find that it’s easy to plug your own details into these questions and make them your own. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about this article. We are always happy to help!