Socratic Selling Skills: How Socrates Sold

Questions Don’t Just Ask—They Also Tell!

It is obvious that you should use questions when you want information to flow from the other person to you. It’s less obvious, but no less true, that you can also use questions to make information or a viewpoint flow in the opposite direction—from you to the other person. Socrates used this technique of conveying information by asking questions so effectively that 2,000 years later we still refer to it as the “Socratic Method.”

Asking questions can be especially powerful when you are trying to persuade a buyer that the problem she faces is more serious than she thinks and that it warrants a solution now. Instead of telling the buyer “You have a problem here,” ask “Are you satisfied with...” or “Will you be able to compete effectively with your current equipment?” This is a good selling technique, since it allows the listener or buyer to reach the conclusion herself. Most of us like our own ideas more than those that are handed to us or imposed on us by someone else. Let the buyer think that the need for a solution is her idea, and she is more likely to buy.

Questions Can Also Help Persuade

When attempting to persuade—whether in a sales call or a social interaction—it is possible to hurt your cause by “coming on too strong.”  That’s what happens when the persuader (the seller) focuses too heavily on the product or idea and too little on the buyer and how the product or idea appears from the buyer’s perspective.

The best way to focus on the buyer is to ask questions which get the buyer to talk. There are two reasons—one psychological and one purely informational—why it´s good to get the buyer talking.

Psychological Benefit.  Your questions tell the buyer that you are concerned with his situation and his interests, and that you would like to know what he thinks and wants.  If a buyer thinks you are concerned with his needs and that you have some sympathy or at least open-mindedness for his point of view, he will share more information with you.  He will also lower his defenses and be more open to what you have to say.

Informational Benefit.  With the buyer talking and you actively listening, you are almost certain to learn something that will help you present your argument or solution most effectively.  You may learn what the buyer wants and why the buyer is or is not interested in what you are about to propose.  You may learn the buyer’s decision criteria and what objections the buyer is likely to raise to your proposal.  This information can be extremely important when you present your argument or proposal, for it allows you to appeal directly to the buyer’s specific needs, interests, and predispositions.

 


ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN offers a full range of selling skills courses to help you sell better.

Read more here: http://zehrenfriedman.com/skills-training/sales

 

The Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls

Clients often ask us to talk about sales call best practices.  In the classroom, we often spend some serious quality time on effective sales calling and we provide participants with detailed takeaway materials to help reinforce these skills.  Here's a series of posts that summarize some of the principles and techniques we teach to promote greater success with consultative sales calls

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How to Open a Sales Call:
3 Things Sellers Should Do

How to Open a Sales Call: <br>3 Things Sellers Should Do

It’s easy to get lost in the sea of opinions on how best to open a sales call.  It is, after all, a very important part of the process.  But it's easy to try and reduce sales calls to a series of mechanical steps that obscures the more artful considerations that set apart successful sales calls. So, here are 3 steps that sellers take during the opening phase of a sales call.  Read on...

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Features & Benefits: Important Differences for Sellers

Features and benefits are two distinct and important concepts for sellers in the sales process. Features sometimes gets a bad rap and benefits aren’t always given appropriate due.  But both are important for sellers to understand and both can be a useful part of making the sale.  So what’s the difference between features and benefits? Which is more important? And is there a difference between proven benefits and potential benefits?  Read on…

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Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 9:
The Psychology of Closing Q&A

1.  Why do some sellers consider “closing” to be the worst part of their job?

It’s probably because closing is the most dangerous part of the job. The danger, of course, has nothing to do with physical harm; rather, it’s the potential damage to the seller’s ego—and perhaps even to his pocketbook. Closing is a much anticipated “moment of truth.” Some sellers see it like a jury’s verdict at the end of a trial. Others are reminded of the anxiety they felt when calling the "person of their dreams" for a first date. It is clearly a critical juncture. After investing considerable time, effort, and expense, the seller may either be rewarded with a sale or sent away empty-handed.

No wonder closing is a dreaded moment!

 

2.  So what’s the secret that allows some people to succeed while others fail at closing?

There is no magic answer, of course, but the following ideas and attitudes will take you a long way toward success:

  • The biggest mistake is to protect yourself from the dangers of closing by not attempting to close. That's a sure way to win the battle and lose the war.

  • Do a thorough job of identifying and developing the needs before you attempt to close. This will make it obvious to the buyer that your primary motive is to be of service.

  • At the end of each sales call, propose a next step you would like the buyer to take. Sometimes, that next step will be a commitment to buy. More often, it will be an important intermediate step, such as meeting “one level up” in the client’s organization, or obtaining pertinent information from the client in order to prepare a formal proposal. Suggest an appropriate next step, and there is an excellent chance the client will agree. Propose an inappropriate one, and you will surely get a ”no.”

  • If you believe your product is a good a solution for the buyer’s needs, then the only way for you to be of service to the buyer is to get the buyer to buy. If the buyer doesn’t buy, you have taken up the buyer's time without providing any benefit in return. So don't be afraid to be “professionally assertive” when it's time to close the sale.

  • Buyers often find closing more frightening than sellers do. After all, the buyer is making a big commitment of company resources (money, management and staff time, redesign of operating procedures, disruption of existing vendor relationships, etc.) in order to buy your product. And the buyer is not perfectly sure what the outcome will be. If the purchase turns out to be a mistake, it could have a negative effect on the company and on the buyer’s career. Sellers should help buyers make this scary decision by displaying enthusiasm and confidence in the proposed solution and by guiding the buyer through a series of next stops that culminate in a sale.

Other Parts in this Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls Series:


ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN offers a full range of selling skills courses to help you sell better.

Read more here: http://zehrenfriedman.com/skills-training/sales

 

Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 6:
How to Prevent Objections

PREVENTING OBJECTIONS

The first lesson in handling objections is the fewer objections you need to handle, the better. Objections can arise from many sources, but actual field observations by sales researchers have revealed that many objections are actually generated, inadvertently, by the seller’s own behavior! Objections of this type most often occur because the seller:

  1. Proposes a solution before identifying and fully developing the prospect’s needs, or

  2. Describes the product in terms of FEATURES and POTENTIAL BENEFITS instead of PROVEN BENEFITS, or

  3. Takes cheap shots at the competition.

Each of these points deserves elaboration…

  1. Many objections can be prevented simply by determining the client's needs up front, by asking GAP questions and then developing the client's Goals, Aspirations, and Problems with Consequences and Value Questions. If you attempt to sell before developing the need, there is an excellent chance that you will offer something in which the client has little or no interest. This generates resistance and objections.

  2. A selling style that focuses on features of the product tends to raise price concerns. This is because most people realize that special features often involve extra cost. Potential Benefits often produce objections since, by definition, the client may not be interested in them. The best selling approach is to stress PROVEN BENEFITS, that is, benefits that help solve PRESSING NEEDS the client has expressed.

  3. Attempting to persuade by attacking your competition is another good way to generate objections. This is especially true if the buyer happens to think well of your competitor. Such an attack may encourage the buyer to defend your competitor or to raise objections to your proposal—definitely not something you want to encourage!

It is perfectly appropriate to work aggressively to beat the competition by demonstrating how your product or service is superior. We are simply suggesting you avoid cheap competitive shots, such as these: “I hear a lot of complaints from companies that have used (competitor's) services,” or “Do you really think (competitor) can deliver by your deadline?”

 

Other Parts in this Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls Series:

 

 

Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 5:
Q&A for Sellers on Features and Benefits

 What's the difference between FEATURES and BENEFITS, and where did FEATURES get their bad reputation?

FEATURES are statements that describe the product itself, or more simply put, they are “product characteristics.”

BENEFITS are statements that describe the value or help the product provides the user. In the simplest terms, BENEFITS are “what the product does for you.”

FEATURES have acquired a bad reputation because some sellers focus too much on their product and its FEATURES and too little on the needs of their buyer. Many buyers are very interested in what the product or service can do for them but care very little how the product does it. These buyers are turned off by a seller with a product and features orientation.

If it's better to stress BENEFITS, why do some sellers focus on FEATURES?

Because it is easier. All you need to do is memorize product characteristics. You can then use essentially the same pitch for all clients to whom you want to sell a particular product. That's a lot easier than the work required to understand each client's needs and then demonstrate how your product or service can satisfy those needs.

Is it ever appropriate to stress FEATURES?

A FEATURES approach may be appropriate when you are dealing with a buyer who is extremely wellversed in the technical aspects of the product and its applications. Such buyers can immediately translate a product’s technical FEATURES into the BENEFITS it will provide them. Sellers who can “talk the same language” as these buyers have an advantage.

The best sellers determine the technical sophistication and interests of their buyers and adapt their product presentations accordingly. For example, a FEATURES approach might be appropriate when selling interest rate swaps, options, and futures to a treasurer who has been actively using these products for several years and who is wellversed in options theory. A less technical BENEFITS approach, however, might be essential when selling a very technical product to the manager/owner of a small firm who has little formal training or experience in the intricacies of the product.

Are all BENEFITS alike, or are there different types?

If we start with the fact that BENEFITS describe how a product helps or provides value to the user, then we can distinguish two types of benefits. PROVEN BENEFITS are things we know the buyer will like, because they satisfy PRESSING NEEDS the buyer has expressed. POTENTIAL BENEFITS are things we think the buyer will like based on our knowledge of the product itself and of the reaction other clients have had to the product.

When a seller begins to propose or describe a solution (a product or service), the buyer immediately begins to calculate in her mind whether the solution is really worth what it will cost to purchase and implement. With this calculation going on, it is essential that the seller describe the product in a way that maximizes its value and appeal to the buyer. The best way to do this is to relate the product's benefits to the PRESSING NEEDS which were uncovered earlier in the conversation.

For example, the seller might say, “You mentioned that you want protection for the foreign exchange exposures that result from the fact that you import so much of your raw material, and export so much of your finished product. We can help you institute a netting system for the various currencies you use. That way you will only need to hedge the net exposure.”

Are you saying that POTENTIAL BENEFITS should not be used at all in describing a product?

No, we’re not saying that. We’re simply saying that while PROVEN BENEFITS are always winners (by definition, they satisfy PRESSING POTENTIAL BENEFITS sometimes miss the mark; in fact, they sometimes backfire. When a seller offers a benefit the buyer doesn’t care about, the buyer is likely to respond with an objection, since the buyer doesn’t want to be spending money on “benefits” which in fact are of no value to him.

When you have run out of PROVEN BENEFITS, it's good to mention POTENTIAL BENEFITS, but do it carefully. Don't say “You should buy this product because it allows high speed transmission of data.” If the client doesn't want high speed transmission, you have undermined your own argument. It's better to say “Many of our clients prefer this product because it allows high speed transmission of data. Would that be important to you?” If the answer is negative, at least you haven't undermined your own selling effort by focusing on the wrong issues.

Sometimes, of course, POTENTIAL BENEFITS are immediately converted into PROVEN BENEFITS as the client realizes that he does want or need what the seller is describing. In the example above, the client might respond by saying, “now that you mention it, perhaps we should convert to high speed data transmission. Our present equipment doesn't require it, but I notice that all new terminals on the market do require it.”

 

Other Parts in this Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls Series:

 

 

Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 4:
Probing for Needs Q&A

What is the second biggest mistake sellers make?

The biggest mistake sellers make is talking too much! The second biggest mistake is selling too soon. Sales training has always sensitized sellers to “find a need and sell to it.” That philosophy doesn’t take the size of the need into consideration. (If, by the way, your prospects and buyers all saw their needs as big, they’d be calling you rather than vice-versa!)

You have three choices as a seller: 

  1. Wait for the big ones to come to you

  2. Go out looking for the big ones

  3. Certainly respond to the big ones, but spend more time finding needs when they are small, then growing them in the mind of your prospects and buyers

What’s the advantage of selling this way?

We have found this third option to be best because the following benefits come to the seller:

  • You are perceived as a consultant rather than a product pusher

  • You reduce the amount of competition for each sales opportunity

  • You build better relationships because you’re serving, not selling

  • You sell more!

How do I accomplish this?

By using ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN’s probing model, developed, enhanced and successfully applied by clients during the past 22 years. Give us a call at 847/940-7269 to find out more!

  

Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 3:
Opening the Call Q&A

Here are three things the seller should do during the “opening” phase of a sales call:

Step 1  Introduce yourself, position your company, and establish rapport.

Step 2  State the purpose of the call in terms of value to the buyer.

Step 3  Take control of the call by getting the buyer's approval for you to ask questions.

These steps sound self-explanatory and on some level they are. If you all you took away were those three steps, you'd be on your way to a good sales call:  you'd be planning your call and you'd be using good, solid steps to organize the call. But your sales call will be much better if you consider some of the questions and implications suggested by those simple steps. 

Should all three steps appear in every sales call?

In general, yes, but there is obviously need for flexibility when opening sales calls.  In a first call on a new prospect, the steps outlined above should probably be followed very closely.  Step 1 is especially important in a first call.  Indeed, in big ticket sales with long selling cycles, Step 1 may be all you hope to accomplish in a first call.  On the other hand, in calling on established clients, Step 1 might be handled with a greeting as simple as “Hi, Jack.  It's good to see you.”

Step 2 is always important with existing clients as well as with new ones, whether the call will be devoted primarily to establishing need, presenting a solution, addressing client concerns, or discussing the next step.  Always state the purpose of the call in terms of its value to the buyer, not to you.  This value statement gives the buyer a reason to take part in the call and helps you "earn the right" to take up the buyer's time.  Keep it short and general.  Say something like “I’m here today to learn more about your situation, so I can then make suggestions on how we can be of help to you.”

Step 3 should be included in every call in which you want to discover new information.  It is especially important early in a calling relationship, but it is also useful and perfectly appropriate when calling on someone with whom you are quite friendly.  It is a graceful way to get the call underway with you "in the driver's seat".  Your request can be as simple as "Jean, to get started, I'd like to ask you some questions about your operation."

Why is it necessary to ask permission to ask a question?

Apart from the fact that it sounds good, asking permission to ask questions has three important benefits for the seller.

First, it emboldens you—it gives you a license—to ask probing GAP and Consequence questions. 

Second, it makes your client less likely to resist if your questions seem a bit intrusive.  Because the client just gave you permission to do what you are doing, you will be able to probe beyond purely “public” information and into the realm of “private” and “hidden” information.  And that, of course, is what you want to do in order to find and develop needs.

Finally, it puts you “in charge” of the sales call, because the person asking the questions gets to determine not only topics, but the direction and the depth of the conversation.  When you have gathered the information you need, instead of asking another question, you can gracefully steer the call into its next phase.

What can I do to establish rapport without being too personal or appearing phony? And how much is enough?

The best answer is to do whatever is natural to you, appropriate for the situation, and welcomed by the client.

Thanks a lot! Let's assume I know what's natural for me and appropriate for the situation. How can I possibly tell what will be welcomed by the client or prospect?

That’s a bit harder. Naturally, for a new acquaintance, safer topics and briefer remarks are recommended. As your professional and, perhaps, personal relationship develops, you will come to know what type and what amount of rapport building will be enough. When dealing with a rather businesslike buyer or one who is having a harried day, the best way for you to establish rapport may be to eliminate all social pleasantries beyond a bare bones introduction and get right down to business. In other cases, you can tell by the buyer's friendly, relaxed manner and words that several minutes of personal relationship building may be in order. (Some of the sellers we work with operate in a very long sales cycle, lasting anywhere from six to twentyfour months. In these cases, it may take a number of calls over a period of months to adequately build rapport and establish the credibility of the seller and the seller's organization. Such calls usually involve a small amount of social rapport building and a large amount of professional rapport and credibility building.)

Some people advocate “reading” the buyer's office and furnishings for clues as to personality type, family situation, recreational interests, etc., and then using this information to help build rapport early in the sales call. This is a good idea, but be careful. There's a story about a manager who kept a swordfish mounted on his office wall. A colleague once remarked, “Joe, I didn't realize you were such an avid fisherman,” to which Joe responded, “I’m not. Never been fishing in my life. I just keep the fish there so I can tell right away which sellers want to waste my time talking about vacations and fishing and which ones want to talk about how their services can be of help to me.” Remember: Do only as much socializing as is welcomed by the buyer.

Okay, let’s assume that I know how to introduce myself and how to establish rapport. What does it mean to “position” my company?

In the context here, it means finding the best words to briefly describe your company so as to “position” you vis-à-vis the competition, or in terms of the services you offer, or the benefits your services provide. This helps you earn the right to take up the buyer's time and to ask the buyer questions. When positioning your company in the “opening” phase of a call, you want to be very brief. The positioning words might simply be, “As you may know, we have branches and affiliates around the world and we deal with many multinational corporations. We are now able to offer middle market companies like yours a range of sophisticated foreign exchange services that previously were available only to larger companies.”

There may be times when you want to devote the entire call or a major portion of it to “positioning.” In that case, you don't need a positioning statement in the opening. Simply introduce yourself, state the purpose of the call, and move into your extended positioning statement. In such cases, the purpose of the call might sound like this: “My major objective today is to give you a broad picture of our capabilities so that you will be better able to make use of the resources we offer.” This would then be followed by as much positioning material as you feel is appropriate.

How should I respond when the client asks questions early in the call?

You don't ever want to give a client the impression that you are evading questions; so, in general, you should respond quickly and honestly to any questions put to you during the call. Be aware, however, that control of the call usually belongs to the person asking the questions.

There is particular danger in responding in detail too early in the call to questions about your product line or the particular idea or solution you have in mind for the client. The danger is that you will be duped into proposing solutions before you have identified or developed the client's needs. This makes it very easy for the client to object to the products or services you offer.

If, in the OPENING phase of the call, the client asks what products or services the seller thinks are appropriate for the client's company, the seller should say something like, “I’d be happy to give you some specific recommendations. But first, may I ask you a few questions about your operations? I want to make sure my suggestions fit your particular needs.”


Other Parts in this Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls Series:

 

 

Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 2:
Questions Don’t Just Ask—They Also Tell!

It is obvious that you should use questions when you want information to flow from the other person to you. It's not quite so obvious, but you can also use questions to make information or a viewpoint flow in the opposite direction, from you to the other person. Socrates used this technique of conveying information by asking questions so effectively that 2,000 years later we still refer to it as the “Socratic Method.”

Asking questions can be especially powerful when you are trying to persuade a buyer that the problem she faces is more serious than she thinks and that it warrants a solution now. Instead of telling the buyer “You have a problem here”, ask “Are you satisfied with…” or “Will you be able to compete effectively with your current equipment?” This is a good selling technique, since it allows the listener or buyer to reach the conclusion herself. Most of us like our own ideas more than those that are handed to us or imposed on us by someone else. Let the buyer think that the need for a solution is her idea, and she is more likely to buy.


Other Parts in this Quick Guide to Consultative Sales Calls Series:

 

 

Quick Guide to Consultative Sales—Part 1:
Notes on Persuasion

Notes on Persuasion

When attempting to persuade—whether in a sales call or a social interaction—it is possible to hurt your cause by “coming on too strong.” That's what happens when the persuader (the seller) focuses too heavily on the product or idea and too little on the buyer and how the product or idea appears from the buyer's perspective.

The best way to focus on the buyer is to ask questions which get the buyer to talk. There are two reasons—one psychological and one purely informational—why it’s good to get the buyer talking.

Psychological Benefit.   Your questions tell the buyer that you are concerned with his situation and his interests, and that you would like to know what he thinks and wants. If a buyer thinks you are concerned with his needs and that you have some sympathy or at least open-mindedness for his point of view, he will share more information with you. He will also lower his defenses and be more open to what you have to say.

Informational Benefit.   With the buyer talking and you actively listening, you are almost certain to learn something that will help you present your argument or solution most effectively. You may learn what the buyer wants and why the buyer is or is not interested in what you are about to propose. You may learn the buyer’s decision criteria and what objections the buyer is likely to raise to your proposal. This information can be extremely important when you present your argument or proposal, for it allows you to appeal directly to the buyer’s specific needs, interests, and predispositions.