Impact Sales Using Impact Questions

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It's all too easy for prospective customers to get so caught up in life's day-to-day obligations that they miss the big picture, pushing aside major ongoing problems for the moment. But moments become hours, hours become days, days become years...and the customer's problems remain unsolved, just buried in the quicksand of daily minutiae, smothering their business. Good impact questions highlight your customer's problems, creating a sense of urgency that hauls him out of that quicksand, forcing him to step back and take a long, hard look at that big picture.

HOW IMPACT QUESTIONS ENCOURAGE CHANGE

People can be reluctant to step out of their comfort zones; their fear of the unknown trumps their frustration with their problems. They're even more reluctant to change if a salesperson jumps on them with a solution the minute the problem is mentioned, more interested in the sale than the client. That's why it pays to engage customers emotionally.
Give your customer time to vent about his company's problem and how it affects him. As he does so, walk him through his problem, asking him to relive it and calculate how that issue affects his company and himself. You can't hurry trust, but listening to your customer will help you ask the right impact questions at the right time. This helps you build a genuine rapport and channel your customer's emotions onto the right path for him and for you.

COACHING THE CUSTOMER THROUGH IT

Impact questions often start with coaching a customer into calculating how much money he'll lose by sticking with his current vendor, product, or service. Let's look at the approach Katherine took when she met with the Vice President of purchasing at Lowe-Price, a major discount department store chain, to discuss her company's clothing line.

The V.P. confided to Katherine that Lowe-Price had ongoing issues with Shag Clothing, its swimsuit vendor. Shag typically delivered the swimsuits four weeks late. In the short swimsuit shopping season, that's missing half the season -- and more than half the revenue, as thousands of customers who'd come in for swimsuits and stay to buy additional Lowe-Price products saw those empty swimsuit racks by the entrance and quickly exited, disappointed and empty-handed. This domino effect continued as Shag's late deliveries resulted in time lost tracking shipments, money lost paying overtime for employees stocking shelves at the last minute, and personal time lost as the V.P. missed family events while scrambling to calm the ripple effects of Shag's lateness. Since Lowe-Price experienced this problem once a quarter, the V.P. and Katherine estimated that the company lost $1.8 million a year!

HOW TO USE IMPACT QUESTIONS

Now that Katherine had coached the V.P. into quantifying his problem and they'd established a rapport, she asked her first impact question: "What do you think the impact on your company will be if you stay with your current vendor?"

The V.P. shook his head, stunned. "I can't believe that we've put up with this problem this long. A loss of $1.8 million is a huge financial drain on our company. This conversation has made me realize that we can't afford not to change vendors!"

Each of Katherine's impact questions hit closer to home, helping the V.P. recognize the problem and take ownership of it. "What impact do you think this problem could have on your role within your company?"

"I'm afraid I'll lose my job if we keep losing money like this," he admitted.

Katherine nodded sympathetically. "You also mentioned losing time with your family. Do you think that situation will change if your problem continues?"

"Unless we switch vendors, I'll be spending more late nights and weekends here instead of with my kids. I don't want that to happen." The V.P. frowned. "We need to do something about this situation immediately!"

Once Katherine's coaching encouraged the V.P. to open up about his concerns, her impact questions helped her discover what he valued most: his family time. Now Katherine could situate her product as a solution to his problem -- and a way for him to spend more time doing the things he wanted to do and less time putting out fires at work.

Note that Katherine was sincere and sympathetic in her conversation with the V.P., so they both benefited. As a salesperson, you don't want to use impact questions to scare a customer into doing business with you -- nobody likes to feel manipulated, especially customers.

Once you take the time to listen to your customers, you'll know based on their responses whether you've earned the right to start the sales process. If you have, sell your heart out. If you haven't, it's time to reposition your questions and reopen your dialogue with your customer.

After you've taken your customer through the impact questions and he recognizes the need for change, be sure to present him with a positive picture of the future that will not only lift his spirits, but position you as the person who can help solve his problem.

SAMPLE IMPACT QUESTIONS

* "How does this problem affect sales? Profitability? Scheduling? On-time deliveries? Quality? Production?"

* "What do you think these problems are costing you?"

* "How is this problem impacting the bottom line?"

* "Let's assume you decide not to address this problem immediately. What will that cost you this year?"

* "If you don't fix this problem, what is the potential impact on your business? Can you afford to take that risk?"

Good impact questions engage customers personally, not telling them but rather, helping them to recognize their business problems, pulling them out of that quicksand they're stuck in and setting them on the road to a brighter future for both you and your customers.
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