March 06, 2019 | Coach’s Corner | Greg Martinelli

Use IF, HOW and WHEN to Get to WHY

Changing the structure of your questions can lead to much different answers and responses

In a previous Coach’s Corner, we dug into the buying process. (See “It’s All About the Buying Process."

The idea is that we are so engrossed in our selling process that we forget our customer is really going through their own process - the buying process.

As good salespeople, we want to get out of our selling process and into our customer’s buying process. We want to understand how our customer makes decisions. To do that, we really need to know the answer to several “why” questions.

Like a five-year-old, we want to ask:

  • Why do you buy from your current supplier?
  • Why do you use that brand of seed, feed, fertilizer, supplement, adjuvant, fungicide, direct fed microbial?
  • Why don’t you sell grain throughout the year?
  • Why don’t you split apply nitrogen?
  • Why don’t you buy from me?

The list of “why” questions goes on and on. The answers to these “why” questions will unlock the mystery of what it will take to sell this customer. It will give us tremendous insight into what this customer is thinking.

In my sales training workshops, one of the first things we train on in asking good questions by developing good “Why” questions. Next, we work on how to change the wording of those questions. Here’s why we need to change from Why to IF, HOW and WHEN.

When you ask “why," what does a person have to do? You are basically asking them to justify their decision and defend themselves. When you ask, “Why do you buy from that company?” Your prospect now has to defend themselves and their decision. They will now list off the seven reasons they like their current supplier. Using the “Why” format can actually come across as challenging their decision-making abilities.

Instead, we can ask in a slightly different way and get a different response. By using a series of IF, HOW and WHEN questions, we can get to WHY.

For example:

  • How long have you been buying from them? Or When did you start with that company? Or Who was the first agronomy supplier, feed supplier, grain elevator you did business with?
  • How did you start doing business with the next supplier? And the next?
  • What have you liked about doing business with your current supplier?
  • Most customers have some kind of improvements they want their supplier to make, how does it work with your current supplier when you recommend improvements in their products or services?
  • How do you normally make decisions on when to lock in your seed, feed, grain, etc.?
  • With all the choices in fungicides, how do you make a decision on which one to use?
  • Have you ever used a product like mine?
    • If he answers yes, then ask, “How did it go?”
    • If he answers no, then ask, “How do you think it would go if you did?”
  • If you were going to add another supplier like myself, how would you go about it? What would be some of the factors you would consider?

The answers to these questions will paint the picture of why they buy.They do it in a way, however, that doesn’t feel like an inquisition nor does it make the customer justify why they made their choices.

There’s one critical step in this process. The questions listed above need to be modified to fit your prospect and the environment you are in at the time. The timing of when you can ask them is critical to getting good answers.

Secondly, both the verbal and non-verbal responses to these questions are critical to understanding if you went too far or touched a nerve with them. If so, back up and continue to build trust in the relationship. Maybe explain why you are asking.

You can explain that you want to learn more about them so you can do a better job of helping them. You might also explain that you are curious about the industry and how customers make decisions.

These questions also need to be modified and practiced so they don’t sound robotic or salesy. I don’t use the actual words “your current supplier." That’s for the generic purposes of this article.

You also have to become really good at reading the customer to determine if you have enough trust built up with him to ask some of these questions. However, I find in my coaching and discussions that salespeople err too much on the conservative side of asking these questions. They are too afraid of asking for fear of sounding nosy or salesy. They don’t want to offend. I understand, but I also think most salespeople use that as an excuse not to ask these critical questions.

Prior to your next sales call, take five minutes and write down a few of these questions. Keep reworking them until they feel comfortable to you and how you talk. Then rehearse them while driving down the highway to that sales call!

Good luck and enjoy the challenge of uncovering critical information using IF, HOW and WHEN questions.

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