When making a purchase decision, buyers often don’t view sellers as a valuable resource. That’s because most sellers meet—but don’t exceed—buyers’ expectations.
Even before the pandemic, buyers preferred to consult multiple other resources—including industry experts, tradeshows, and vendor websites—before they’d approach sellers to ask for help solving a problem. COVID-19 stretched this gap between buyers and sellers even further.
Today, almost a fifth of sellers prefer to avoid sellers entirely, according to the Korn Ferry 2021 Buyer Preferences Study. The rest found some sellers helpful but observed that many others wasted their time.
This skeptical view of sellers means that most buyers (79%) wait until after they’ve defined their needs to engage a salesperson. When buyers see sellers as product representatives, not as problem-solvers, and see little difference between sellers, there’s no incentive for them to engage sellers earlier.
The later sellers get involved in the buying decision, the harder it is for them to exert much influence and ask important sales questions. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for sellers to offer extra value or differentiate themselves, and they merely meet, rather than exceed, buyer expectations.
The next time buyers want to make a purchase, they don’t see a need to engage early in their buying journey with a salesperson, and the cycle starts anew. We call this cycle the “buyer apathy loop.”
Fortunately, sellers can break the buyer apathy loop. But to do so, they need to exceed their buyers’ expectations. That’s easier said than done. Sellers need to find the right opening to offer perspective — the unique value that combines a seller’s mindset, insight, and experience and sets them apart from the competition.
One way to break the buyer apathy cycle and start engaging with buyers earlier is to create a better buying experience. The questioning techniques taught in our SPIN® Selling Conversations training course help sellers engage customers in productive conversations. With SPIN®, sellers learn how to ask the right sales questions and listen closely until they understand why their customer wants to explore new solutions.
In turn, sellers better understand how they can offer perspective to engage buyers as problem-solvers and help them achieve their goals.
The better your sellers’ dialogue with your customers, the better your sales results. And good dialogue begins with your sellers strategically asking smart sales questions.
The research behind SPIN® shows that salespeople who close more deals tend to ask the same questions in a similar order. As with all elements of enterprise sales strategy, process and consistency matter.
SPIN® gives sellers the sales questions and skills necessary to uncover buyer needs and overcome hesitations and objections. The acronym SPIN® identifies the four stages of the questioning sequence designed to move the customer toward closing a deal:
Here are the questions that fall into each stage.
Situation questions ask about the buyer’s background and show you where your customers stand. Use these questions to collect facts about the buyer’s current state, processes, challenges, competitive strategies and results.
Spend some time gathering information before your conversation to avoid focusing on obvious topics. Be careful not to ask questions that you could find the answers to easily through online research or preliminary calls. Given the availability of information online, this should be your shortest set of questions.
Situation questions include:
Problem questions deal with the buyer’s difficulties and obstacles that stand in their way. These questions probe more deeply into buyers’ needs and dissatisfactions, unearthing unstated needs. They also give sellers an opportunity to show their understanding of the buyer’s problem, enhancing their credibility.
One technique to generate these questions is to work backward from the solutions you offer to problems, ultimately linking your offerings to the buyer’s areas of opportunity.
Problem questions include:
Implication questions ask about the impact of a problem that you’ve diagnosed. These questions combine the seller’s critical thinking skills and industry insights to help buyers understand the magnitude of the problem to increase their urgency to solve it.
Implication questions include:
Need-payoff questions focus the buyer on a potential solution and its benefits. They ask about a solution’s value or usefulness, gently moving the buyer to put the solution’s benefits in their own terms. This persuasive technique is much more compelling than your sellers describing the benefits themselves.
Need-payoff questions should build off implication questions. Here are some examples:
The seller’s goal is to frame the solution in a way that the buyer hasn’t considered.
Customers don’t want your sellers to tell them what they need. They need your sellers to ask sales questions designed to guide them to a solution. The key for sellers is to know how to identify their buyer’s hidden needs rather than accepting their statement at face value.
To learn how to ask these questions, sellers need sales effectiveness training. SPIN® Selling Conversations gives your team the skills and practice they need to develop the sales questions that uncover buyer needs and overcome objections—all in the moments when deals are made and lost.
Put a new spin on your sellers’ sales questions and improve their win rates by finding out more about our SPIN® training course here.