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Ask This Question Before Finalizing Any Buyer Meeting

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There’s one simple, easy-to-pose question that will, if you use it consistently, simultaneously improve your closing ratio, shorten your sales cycle, and deepen your relationship and impact within the buying organization. And yet salespeople hardly ever ask this question.

We’ll get to that question in a moment. But first, let’s understand that this particular question is one of our qualifying questions. So, before we go any further, let’s get clear about what the word qualifying really means.

Qualifying does not mean “Getting someone to agree to have a discussion with us,” even though that’s what a lot of salespeople seem to believe. A prospect who is in discussions with us is not, by definition, qualified to buy. The qualification phase of a viable professional sales process actually goes far deeper than that – by directly addressing three critical issues:

Pain. Is there a problem or pain that we can solve? How do we know? Have we uncovered the impact, both personal and organizational, of that pain?

Budget. Are sufficient financial resources available to fix this problem? Are other resources apart from money going to be necessary to fix the problem – such as time, access to information, access to people, and commitment on the buyer's side to support investigation and implementation? If so, are those resources available?

Decision. What is the decision-making process that will determine whether the problem gets fixed? What person or group is formally responsible for that decision? Who will influence that decision informally? What criteria will be used to determine whether this solution really makes sense and is worth paying for?

An opportunity is not qualified unless you are clear on the answers to all three of these issues.

Perhaps you’re wondering – how does all this connect to the question we mentioned earlier?

We may not be as clear as we imagine we are on that third element, Decision, is the way we ask buyers and influencers about the decision-making process. Here’s one way to ask new acquaintances about that process that is all but guaranteed to give us incomplete or inaccurate information:

Hey, who has the final decision on this?

There are many variations on this question, and it’s likely that, at some point in your career, you’ve asked one of them during a sales call. But ask yourself: What would you say if a salesperson asked you this question? What have you said in the past when a salesperson asked you this?

Likely, it was something along these lines: “Me. I make the decision.” Even if someone else was going to help you make that decision. Even if the final decision wasn’t really yours to make.

We’ve all had this experience. Why do we say things like that?

Because a question like “Hey, who has the final decision on this?” feels intrusive somehow, especially in the early stages of our relationship with a salesperson. And that’s typically when salespeople ask this: at the end of the first meeting, as the second discussion is scheduled.

Stop and think about that dynamic for a moment.

We’ve had a good initial conversation. We’ve built up rapport with our contact. They’ve begun to open up to us. They’ve begun to share valuable information about the challenges they're facing – the Pain. There’s a dialogue of collaboration. Trust is beginning to emerge … but only beginning. Then we undo everything we’ve done to build that trust.

We know we still don’t have all the information we need about the decision-making process. So, what do we do? We ask them to do one, two, or all three of the following things.

  1. Admit that they’re not the sole decision maker – an admission that may not be easy because it connects to status, control, and self-image issues.
  2. Give us the details of some of their most important workplace relationships, by sharing the names of the other people involved in the decision.
  3. Open themselves up to criticism internally by “unleashing” a salesperson they’ve only met once on others in the organization.

Make no mistake: That’s how new prospects perceive what we’re doing when we ask them, directly, who the decision maker is.

What if there were a better way to qualify? What if there were a more effective way to gather the information, we need about how the decision will be made?

Fortunately, there is. One simple question, posed consistently every time you set up any kind of meeting with a prospective buyer, can shed far more light on the decision-making process. Any time you are setting up a meeting with someone, just be sure you ask this:

Does anybody else need to be at this meeting?

It's a easy question to pose, and it covers the same ground as Who has the final decision on this – but it’s subtler, less intrusive, and far more effective. Why? Because it’s continuing your dialogue of collaboration with the other person.

Now, about half of the time, this question doesn’t yield any meaningful information. But the other 50% of the time, your prospect is going to extend the dialogue of collaboration and say something like this: “Oh, yeah – you know what, we ought to invite Leslie.”

At which point you can ask, “Okay – what does Leslie do?”

And the prospect will tell you!

Listen. That conversation you just led makes a beautiful sound. It’s the sound of your rapport with the prospect deepening, your sales cycle getting shorter, and your closing ratio improving. You just got more of the right people in the right place at the right time, taking part in the right conversation, – and engaging with you earlier, rather than later, in the process.

So: Ask the question!

Selling begins when you start asking good questions!
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Rich Isaac

Rich Isaac

Rich is the founder and President of Sandler Training, Hauppauge, New York, and loves to help his clients to reach their full potential in sales and business. Rich possesses a varied technical and business background gained over 25 years in industry. Rich became certified in the Sandler Sales methodology in 1996, and founded his operation that fall. He and his staff have grown the firm into one of the most prominent and successful sales and business development training firms on Long Island.