Uncovering the needs of your prospects with Q&A

Yesterday we were discussing how to delve into what a prospect really needs, and how you can package your services to give them a solution that they will actually buy, even if you really only offer one service. Today, let’s discuss more on the subject of creating options, as this gives you valuable information about a client’s objective.

Let me give you a non-tax example from my newspaper advertising sales days. I was selling ad space for a small, conservative, monthly newspaper that was direct mailed to just about every residence in Fort Collins, a city of about 120,000 people at the time. Being a local, monthly publication, instead of a daily newspaper, one of our biggest benefits to advertisers was that people kept our newspaper sitting around for a week or longer — people that read it didn’t just throw it away. But still, I had one product to sell: Newspaper advertising space in a local monthly publication. However, I had options to sell. For one, what about ad size? Does my prospect NEED a full page ad? Will a 1/8th page ad meet their needs? Even if they can afford a full page ad, if they can get the same response from a smaller ad, isn’t it my obligation as an ethical sales consultant to make sure they purchase what they NEED, rather than what gets me the biggest commission? What about color? If their logo and most other advertising is based around the color red, do they NEED full color, or can we effectively place them on a single color page, which was cheaper for us to have printed anyway?

Let’s take consumer tax preparation software as another example, since in one way or another we’re all in competition with tax software. Most commercial tax prep packages have a slew of options, and they have different versions available for different needs, which can actually create confusion for the consumer. However, there are lesser-known tax software solutions that only have one version – no options, no upgrades. How on Earth do you do needs based selling for that situation?

In reality, it’s easy. The solution is a simple Q&A. Remember, you’re having a conversation with a real human being, and this person came to you because they viewed you as an expert (remember, in our marketing we are always positioning ourselves to be on the right side of the desk). You must ask questions that probe to see if the features of your product meet the needs of the prospect. For our tax software example, if the software is specifically meant for preparing ONLY individual income tax returns with zero forms support for home based businesses, then you need to ask your prospect if they own a small business. If they do, then this prospect is not a good fit for this product, and you have an obligation to tell them that, and perhaps recommend a competing product that does meet their needs.

Needs based selling requires you to be comfortable with people, and comfortable asking questions. Part of your pre-sales preparation is to formulate questions that you should ask every prospect, but you also need to be flexible enough to probe deeper with a prospect during that particular sales meeting.

As part of creating a systematized, procedure-driven sales methodology, you need to assemble an initial list of questions to ask prospects. Your goal is to understand the needs of your prospect as it relates to the general nature of your service. Your goal with questioning your prospect is not to interrogate, but to reach a helpful understanding. The true sales professional does more listening than talking, as he or she is listening to the prospect’s answers to their questions.

During this question and answer process (“needs discovery”), the consultative sales professional is analyzing the responses. A lot of times, the prospect doesn’t truly understand their own need, but are rather looking at symptoms that underly the root problem. Your job as is to analyze these symptoms and get to that root problem. In reality, owing money to the IRS is a symptom of a much bigger issue. Tax debts aren’t created overnight. Rather, they are the end result of an ongoing set of problems. Some of the most common problems are a failure to understand payroll tax reporting and depositing obligations, poor bookkeeping (or lack thereof entirely), a dishonest employee or spouse, failure to reduce staffing when revenues fall off, failure to adjust W-4 withholding, failure to make 1040-ES payments, or simply leaving beyond their means.

After you have an understanding of the real issue that needs to be addressed, you need to formulate and offer a solution to that problem. In tomorrow’s article, we’ll discuss the problem -> solution-> benefit sales chain.