List three questions that you believe would be applicable to your target customers to help you (a) get the conversation started, and (b) uncover important information about your customer’s needs, problems and values. Examples in the grain business might be: “What services does your grain company provide for you? Are there things you wish they did better? Are there beneficial grain handling or merchandising services that you should consider offering?”
Now that you have generated three questions, go back and take a look at them. Are these questions open-ended or closed questions? Closed questions suggest a specific response (often a response of just a few words or a short phrase with specific data). Open-ended questions allow your customer to talk. During the probing process, it is more effective if you focus on open-ended questions or questions that you customer will not be able to answer with a simple “yes” or “no” or a quick one-or-two-word response.
Remember that during the probing stage you are learning about your customers’ needs. Good open-ended questions often start with “What,” “Why,” or “How.” Don’t worry if there are specifics you are not learning about right now. You can use a closed question later in the selling process to learn the specific details you need to know (e.g. number of loads or timing of delivery).
There are a couple of common mistakes salespeople make at this step. One mistake is the salesperson talks too much or interrupts the customer. When the customer talks, you almost always learn something that could be useful down the road when creating a value bundle for the customer. Two other common problems are asking the wrong questions and assuming you know what the customer needs.
You are almost ready to move to the communicating features and benefits stage, but, first you need to build the bridge for the transition. Only after you have a good understanding of your customer’s needs, can you summarize what you have heard and suggest a recommendation. Now is the ideal time to ask for additional information to find any missing pieces. Be careful to stay focused during this transition. Only talk about the parts of your product and/or service that are relevant and beneficial to your customer.
Communication of features and benefits
Features and benefits are distinct and important aspects of your sales story. You need them both but be careful not, confuse them. Features are the facts about your product, service or company and can be seen, touched, smelled, measured, demonstrated or proven. Customers may be interested in features as a basis of comparison. However, for most customers you will need to move beyond features in order to secure the sale because customers ultimately purchase benefits rather than features.
Benefits are the end result of features and allow the customer to solve a problem. As the salesperson, your goal is to explain how your product or service solves a customer’s problem. An effective way of doing this is to translate features into benefits for your customers using the features, advantages, benefits (FAB) approach.
For example you might use the following statement when you are selling grain to a processor: “Because we have a state-of-the-art grain drying system, the corn that we deliver to you will be free of stress cracks and allow your production process to be more efficient.”
Pen and paper exercise:
List three features (facts) about your product/service your customers have identified as important. Next, beside each feature list an important benefit of that feature for your customer. Then go back and check that you can complete the following phrase: “Because our product/ service ________ (highlight feature) you will be able to________ (highlight benefit). An example in the feed business might be: “With our Heavy Hog Finisher ration, your market hogs will have better average daily gain, which means they eat less feed and can be moved to market more quickly — which allows you to both save money and put more hogs through your facility each year.”
Objections are a normal and regular part of the selling process and need not be feared. We know that many salespeople worry about objections — but objections can be anticipated, planned for and don’t need to be a problem. There are three common causes of objections: (1) misunderstanding, (2) lack of information, and (3) legitimate reasons or concerns not to accept the product/service.