You are only as smart as the questions you ask

Well,  that’s not entirely true.  You might be brilliant.  But you’re not going to look that way if you’re jamming solutions down my throat before you know what my problem is.  If you want me to buy something, it’s not about how great your product is.  It’s about how great your product is going to make me.  And if you had asked me before you started your pitch, I might have told you.

Sales guys, folks on job interviews and corporate presenters love hearing the sound of their own voices.  Somehow more information, whether desired by the listener or not, is going to seal the deal.

Throwing everything at the wall and hoping something will stick is bush league.  Do this instead…


Standard sales pitch

Ask meaningful questions.

The internet offers up a lot of information but if you’re trying to read up on a large company you want to sell to, everything you read will be crafted as some form of positive corporate messaging.  Nobody’s website is going to talk about their challenges, concerns and pain-points.  Press releases only give you spun statements.  There are some things you will never know unless you ask.  When you ask pertinent questions, you’ll find that you only need to say about half the stuff you thought you needed to say.

What are the most important questions to ask?  Questions that lead to you demonstrating your product’s ability to solve a problem, either on a company-wide level or directly for the person in front of you.

I’d like to find out through conversation how the person’s year is going. In almost all cases, I’ll get “It’s going great!” or “It’s been challenging.” or “It’s been busy.”   This allows me to further ask, ‘Why’ it’s been great, challenging or busy.  Folks aren’t generally asked and it makes them stop and give some thought to what is generally a reflex answer.  Upon further thought, “It’s been great!” becomes “It’s been great but it hasn’t been easy…” or “It’s been challenging but the lessons were priceless!”   This allows for real dialogue, leading to more meaningful questions.  It immediately stops becoming a pitch and becomes a conversation.

When you have a sense of why things are the way they are, you can genuinely see if you have a solution.   Any type of pitch before this point will only be built on assumptions.  Assumptions can kill a deal. Assumptions can make you look stupid.

Once I know why things are the way they are, I ask “What’s the most pressing issue you have to solve right now?”  I don’t want to ever guess.  I want to know with certainty.  A good buyer, HR person or executive will give me a straight answer because nobody wants to waste any time. Sometimes my product may not solve their most pressing issue directly but it might make solving it easier.  Again, meaningful dialogue follows.

That’s it.  That’s how all my sales meetings start.  There’s no secret. Selling is figuring out the gap between reality and ideal.  And the easiest way to find out is to ask.  Nobody will believe you if you say you can solve all their problems. You just need to know which ones you can solve best right now.