A while back I had tackled the subject of questioning prospects during a presentation here, but in that post I didn’t really go into what types of questions you should be asking (or avoiding).
Being that I used to be a buyer of IT solutions, there are a few common behaviors that I know always turned me off or resulted in my answering the questions less than generously:
- Asking sensitive questions before trust has been established
- Getting irrelevant questions
Asking Questions Before Trust was Developed
It’s pretty bad form (especially in my world of security) to ask about what other products a prospect is running in their environment. I’ve also been asked immediately in a sales call what my manager’s title and name was. In truth, it didn’t really matter WHAT questions I was being asked up front. Receiving a bank of qualifying questions was something every sales team did which took 5-10 minutes at the front of the call that I felt wasted my time. After all, I took this call to get some information about your product for a reason, so the sales teams that distinguished themselves always provided value to me by respecting my time and starting with the meat of the presentation. After these teams demonstrated competency in their subject, I was much more amenable to providing them data which I thought would help them customize their presentation even more. Demonstrating competence builds trust. Respecting my time builds trust. Reading from a script of “clever” questions put together by marketing or a sales ops team destroys it. Plan to give a lot to get a little
Getting Irrelevant Questions
While a question may seem perfectly logical to you when you ask it, if there is no context around it the receiver may process it as irrelevant and thus not be inclined to answer the question (or begrudgingly so at best). Some questions that can fall into this category go something like “how many datacenters do you have”, “what are your top 3 priorities this year”, “how are you dealing with regulation xyz”, etc. These questions don’t obviously confer on the receiver why that information is necessary. If you absolutely have to ask a question in this category, preface them: “Our architecture can vary significantly depending on the number and location of your datacenters, is your company centralized or very dispersed?” would be a much better approach.
IT buyers sit through an incredible number of vendor pitches. Many vendors follow a script of qualification on the fly with the vendor asking all their questions up front. NEVER do this. If you find that you absolutely need to have a few pieces of customer information prior to delivering your pitch, have the rep get it before the meeting. And don’t let your rep fall into this bad habit. I personally like to see my reps limit it to two questions after a brief introduction. Something like: “Do you currently own a solution in this space?”, and, if no, “Do you have any previous experience using a solution like this”. That should tell you as an SE 80% of how to structure your message.
People judge your intelligence and experience based on the questions you ask, how you ask them, and when. Asking a bunch of good questions all in a row at the front end of your pitch will have your prospect annoyed. Asking them at strategic points in the conversation will seem eloquent. So what are a few types of questions to avoid:
- Open ended questions – What?!?! Every sales book tells you to ask some open ended questions to “get the prospect talking”. Your rep may get away with one or two, but even that can be stretching it with a technical audience. Unless it rigidly meets the bars of clarity, timeliness, and relevance, think like a lawyer and get to the point. There’s plenty of time for pontification with the customer after you’ve moved beyond the pitch stage
- Theoretical questions – If your question isn’t meant to drive toward a specific piece of information that helps you customize your pitch or set you up for a transition, avoid
- Relationship building questions – I’m a fan of breaking the ice, but not during the content of the meeting itself. Get it done in the hallway before, or, after you’ve finished your meeting up with time to spare and have your next steps in hand. Again, you’ll find people open up a lot more after you’ve built the appropriate trust