“HE WHO ASKS THE QUESTIONS HAS THE POWER”
Secrets Of Question Based Selling is an odd title not to mention grammatically suspect. It sounds as if the book is making reference to a methodology that one has to study elsewhere and only then arrive at this book in order to acquire said system’s ‘secrets.’ Speaking of which, the book has over one hundred ‘secrets’ in boxes and captions, yet none of them are actually secrets. They are better described as tips or perhaps factoids. Even if they were secrets, which they are not, surely that can be no more since the book’s publication! Most are self-evident to say the least. Here is Secret #1 for example: “Salespeople are being held at arm’s length, and rejection is making it more difficult for them to stay motivated.” How about “Greater needs cause prospects to feel a greater sense of urgency for finding a solution and making a purchase”? Who knew? Sarcasm aside, and not to dwell too much, what is the book like? Well, it claims to double – not triple, improve incrementally or improve by 54%, exactly double – your sales.
Tom Freese’s book was recommended to me by a sales director and so I began it with anticipation. Nonetheless, it took me longer to get through it than most books. For some reason it was a lengthy and difficult read despite not being a long book or being written in difficult English. The book is likely verbose and has a difficult time getting to the point. It is divided into three parts.
Part I is a short course on the QBS Methodology.
Part II speaks to the power of strategic questioning,
while part III, to the books credit, gets into the Implementation of what one has learnt and moreover delves into the larger sales process including prospecting and presentations. This last part is partially like bonus material. Here Freese suggests taking the price/cost question that inevitably follows a presentation and pivoting it into the next step of the sales process including, but not limited to, asking questions as to where one stands.
QBS is a solid methodology and covers the fundamentals well. Certainly it borrows from a few other systems and gives the reader/learner a solid foundation for sales or a nice compact digest of everything in one place. Unquestionably, the concept of asking and asking and finding better ways of asking is sound and reasonable in sales. Nonetheless, there are several things to argue about. The introduction to the book erroneously claims that most sales trainings are not question-based. This seems inaccurate – unless there are many courses out there that have not crossed my path – yet the premise that questions uncover needs, standing, establish credibility and gain internal champions is spot-on.
Freese’s main hope is to have the reader stand out by improving the chances of a sales win by increasing the probability of success and decreasing the risk of failure. This, so far, is inexact as no two sales are identical and different processes will have to be followed, but having a parameter and methodology is a necessity. Freese is forthcoming in this regard. It follows that Freese believes his methodology of reducing risk increases productivity by increasing wins, enhancing excitement and diminishing rejections is the way to proceed. He notes that the average sale requires approximately five closing attempts which implies a lot of risk. Therefore, instead of sticking one’s neck out, he suggests probing for closure in the right way and at the right time. All this, by sending pings to gauge interest instead of directly asking, which might solicit an outright rejection.
Freese talks about ‘mismatching’ reminding the sellers that customers often engage in it almost subconsciously. People respond in a contrarian fashion. Seller: “can you see how we have the best solution?” Buyer: “well, you are not that good!” Instead of falling into that trap he suggests establishing ‘mutual interest’ which is achieved through strategic questioning until the buyer acknowledges a need. People mismatch because they are insecure and sellers must stop facilitating such responses. This thought suggests pushing for a sale is the wrong approach as it prompts buyers to reciprocate and push back harder. A better alternative is uncovering needs through questioning.
How? Reduce risk by 1- asking more questions and making less statements, 2- be more credible (diagnostic questioning conveys expertise and familiarity), 3 – make them curious, 4- ask, ask, ask and 5- Get into Momentum Selling. Freese wants the seller to become the messenger, not the message.
Here is where Freese introduces his notion of Gold Medals & German Sheppards. Some people strive for something (e.g. organic nutrition), while others run away from certain things (e.g. junk food). Find out which is which and work the angle. Some people might be considering both aspects. Based on that notion, strangely, Freese asserts that with QBS the customer’s personality type becomes irrelevant. That is hard to swallow for this writer. The real game in sales is changing latent needs to active needs (without needs the best salesperson is out of luck). That is, sellers need to transform ignorance into pain as most buyers are in the ‘latent’ category. This is where a process of mutual discovery works, one that turns prospects into informed buyers. Ask questions. Ask questions according to three definitions and categories: 1- Scope, 2- Focus and 3- Disposition. The conversational model of QBS, which is key to relationships, is:
It begins with creating curiosity. Page 104 suggests a script based on that notion (complete with a grammatical mistake) that suggests leveraging a name within the company when leaving a voice-mail or conversing in order to create curiosity in the customer’s mind. “since she (other person at the organization) didn’t know all the answers…” People buy from people and one has to build credibility first. After all, a salesperson does not initially have a relationship with the buyer. To build that employ strategic questioning by managing:
1- Scope: How broad is your questioning? The more open-ended a question is the broader its scope. Yet, credibility is a prerequisite so open-ended questions are better for expanding questions and not for establishing them. Freese suggests asking a specific question and then delving into a series of diagnostic question.
2- Focus: Escalate the focus. Ask the right questions. Status (opportunity?), Issue (of prospect) and be analytical, Implication (of issue) and make it emotional, Solution (what is it?). Asking “what extent is ___ important” also avoids mismatching. Questions develop the relationship.
3- Disposition: Since the situation changes it is important to know about the adverse factors involved. Not asking disposition questions or avoiding bad news limits one knowledge. Asking allows control since prospects are often reluctant to share bad news. This is why sellers mistakenly keep asking ‘hopeful questions’ like “we are doing fine, right?” Instead, it is better to ask ‘neutral questions’ like “are we going to hit the end-of-the-month deadline, or are we not going to hit that deadline?”
Additionally, QBS suggests we ask our buyers to become us and ask them what they would do were they in our shoes and what would the outcome of one’s action be. This is an interesting proposition. The book especially suggests trying this with an internal ‘champion.’ This is risky, however. One wonders if completely relying on an internal champion is sane as it might, to some degree, relinquish one’s own first-hand presence.
Selling is a process; but sales processes are no longer linear. Freese notes that some parts are more important than others and need a larger emphasis. On page 167 one comes across the book’s most provocative assertion that “customer is not always right.” If they were they would know everything regarding products and services and that is that. They would not need the salesperson. As such, the salesperson needs to take charge of the sales process by asking questions. Questions are power. If one is asked a question, first answer it with a question in order to maintain control and only later answer the actual question.
As you can see from the above QBS is a good read or rather a good compilation of material. It borrows from Consultative Selling, SPIN and Winning Inc. liberally however. Reading those or about those methodologies are good prerequisites or companions to QBS.
Of course, and it goes without selling, the author closes the book with the standard attempt at launching a training/guru/institute career. The saving grace is that unlike so many others he actually has a few things to offer.