A lot of subscribers have asked me to provide some advice relative to the way they approach their sales calls. They tell me about how they position themselves, what they say, what they show, how they build value, and what they present. Then they tell me how their prospects respond and ask how I might do things differently. I can’t respond to all of these requests individually but this week I’d like to attempt a generic response.

The mistake that so many salespeople make is in the positioning. They talk too much about the company, products, service and themselves. They spend too much time telling their prospects what they can do. And they don’t spend nearly enough time asking the kinds of questions you can find in Baseline Selling.

It’s really important to understand how the sales call should begin. When you get a better sense for that, the negative responses, lack of interest, and other 1st meetings that don’t lead to closure will go away, replaced by prospects who really want your help.

For starters, check out this Baseline Selling Tip on 1st Impressions from earlier this year.  Use that to position yourself.  Then, it’s time to start listening and asking questions.  Check out this tip on listening from earlier this year.  Reread the chapter on Getting to 2nd Base.  You should not be thinking about what to tell your prospects. Instead you should be attempting to identify their problems, asking why the problems haven’t been fixed, getting to the cause of the problem, and quantifying the cost of the problem.

If you just get better with your opening statement and then ask lots of good, tough, timely questions, negative responses will become a thing of the past. There are two types of questions I like salespeople to use to differentiate themselves.

The first is a “don’t know” question. These are really tough questions designed to elicit an “I don’t know” from your prospect. They’re especially effective if you find yourself with the wrong person.  In that scenario, you ask the question, they say they don’t know, and you ask, “well who would know the answer to that question?” Follow that one up with “why isn’t he/she in our meeting?” Another powerful use of the I don’t know question is to demonstrate your expertise. In many businesses, prospects think they know all there is to know and this is a less threatening way to get them to learn that you know important stuff that they don’t know.

The second question is a “could it be?” question.  Use these to help your prospects understand both the possible cause of a problem and your degree of expertise. Baseline Selling has great examples of both types of questions. Reread the chapter on Getting to 2nd Base as a refresher.

Regardless of what you sell, follow this example to understand the application of the questions:

Prospect: The machine keeps going down.
Salesperson: What’s wrong with it?
Prospect: I don’t know.
Salesperson: Who would know?
Prospect: Bill.
Salesperson: Why isn’t Bill in the meeting?
Prospect: I’ll get him.

Salesperson: What’s wrong with the machine?
Bill: Keeps going down.
Salesperson: Do you know why?
Bill: Nope.
Salesperson: Could it be the filter?
Bill: I don’t know.
Salesperson: Could it be the valve?
Bill: No, we checked that.
Salesperson: Could it be the workload?
Bill. Never thought of that. Could that cause the problem?
Salesperson: Maybe. How big is the workload?
Bill: 100,000 a day.
Salesperson: That’s high. How often does it go down?
Bill: Couple times a week.
Salesperson: How long does it take to get it fixed?
Bill: Couple of hours each time.
Salesperson: Anyone complaining?
Bill: Hell, yeah. How about everyone?
Salesperson: Any customers?
Bill: Lots of them. We promised it by a certain date, they don’t get it. They get pissed.
Salesperson: I see. Have you lost any customers as a result?
Bill: One customer that I know of but he was worth $750K a year.
Salesperson: How do you get caught up?
Bill: Overtime.
Salesperson: That must get costly. How much would you guess you’ve had to spend on overtime since the machine has been going down?
Bill: Probably $10,000 per incident, twice a week for about 3 months.
Salesperson: That’s more than a quarter of a million dollars and with the customer you lost, this machine has cost your company a million bucks.

That’s the kind of conversation you should be having between 1st and 2nd base.