According to Dan Tyre, there’s one question a salesperson should always ask her prospect. The reply will determine the sales executive strategy throughout the process and can uncover valuable opportunities to educate the buyer.
The question is, “Have you ever made a purchase like this before?”
Salespeople who never explore whether their prospects have previously bought something on behalf of their company are missing out on a goldmine of information.
How to Respond If the Answer Is Yes
If the buyer says, “Yes, I recently bought [product],” this means:
- They have been involved in or oversaw a purchasing process
- If the offering they bought is related or complementary to the salesperson’s offering, they have already started addressing a relevant business pain
- If the product is related to the salesperson’s offering, they should dig into the buyer’s motives, strategy, and use case.
Try asking some of these sample questions:
- “What prompted you to buy that?”
- “Which issue were you hoping to solve?”
- “[X months] down the line, how do you feel about [product]?”
- “Tell me about the implementation process.”
- “How do you see [sales executive’s product] and [purchased product] complementing each other?” (If the prospect says, “I haven’t thought about that,” or “I don’t know,” the salesperson should develop a couple ideas.)
If the prospect has purchased a product on behalf of their organization before, the sales executive should explore the buyer’s internal buying process. According to CEB, an average of 6.8 stakeholders are now involved in every B2B purchase, which means the sales executive must strategically map out who else has a say, what their individual priorities and motivations are, and how she can get in front of these people or arm her champion with what he needs to persuade them himself.
The sales executive can also use this line of questioning to learn more about her prospect’s attitude toward cost. Is the prospect price-conscious, or is he willing to spend more for better quality, security, and/or service?
These follow-up questions will help the salesperson gather more information:
- “Who else was involved in that purchase?”
- “How did you decide on a [vendor/product/solution]?”
- “Why did you start looking at products in the [category] space?”
- “What was the decision making process like?”
- “What were your decision criteria?”
- “Did you prioritize any of those criteria more than others?”
- “Roughly how long did the process take?”
- “Did the funding come from your budget?”
- “Did anyone make the final call, or was it a group decision?”
- “Did you run the purchase by legal or procurement?”
- “If you had a do-over, how would you approach the process differently?”
- “I know that [costs around X, is fairly pricey/affordable/middle of the market]. Was [product] the most [expensive, inexpensive] option you evaluated?”
To avoid making prospects wonder why they are spending time discussing the past, sales executives shouldn’t ask every single question on this list. They should pick and choose depending on what information they need most.
For instance, if a sales executive is having a hard time understanding why her prospect is looking into solutions at this exact time, she might ask, “Why did you start looking at products in the [category] space?” But if she’s hoping to figure out how the buyer will actually pay for her product, she could pose a question about funding.
How to Respond If the Answer Is No
It’s possible the prospect has never bought a similar product before — meaning he’s figuring everything out for the first time. A smart sales executive will take this chance to add value and earn trust by guiding her prospect through the various stages of a purchasing decision.
But saying, “You should value X things and follow Y process,” isn’t the best response. Buyers can be skeptical, so telling them to do something without proof won’t be effective. Bringing up similar companies as examples, on the other hand, lets the sale executive deliver her point in a way prospects trust.
The sale executive might say, “I’ve helped X clients with this type of purchase. Would you be interested in hearing the criteria most used to evaluate their options?”
Sales executive who help prospects define their decision criteria should strive to be as objective as possible. It’s tempting to model the purchasing framework around your offering, but if the buyer finds out, they will lose all faith in you.
Let’s say your company’s onboarding and implementation services aren’t great. You decide to exclude “onboarding and implementation” from the list you send your prospect so this doesn’t play into their decision. Then another sale executive mentions their excellent onboarding package — and suddenly, the buyer is wondering why you never mentioned this detail.
Try placing yourself in your prospect’s shoes. What information do you need to know to make the best decision? Even if the buyer ends up going with your competitor (or sticking with the status quo), you will have earned their trust. That means you will probably be their first choice for referrals or future purchases.
Buyers might also need help navigating their company’s purchasing and approval processes. For instance, if a sale executive knows from experience their product typically requires approval from both Marketing and Sales, she could say, “The marketing managers I work with typically run their top three choices by the director of sales before making a final call. You might consider meeting with [company’s director of sales] to see what he thinks.”
When a sale executive really wants to impress the buyer, she can offer up a “Godfather.” This senior executive from her company will serve as a mentor to the buyer, answering their questions and checking up on them appropriately every six months.
Tyre says this suggestion makes prospects feel 10 times more secure about the purchase — even though most don’t take advantage of it.
“The offer itself is often more valuable than the actual resource,” he explains. “Prospects feel their risk is reduced if they know help is just a phone call away.”
It might feel counterintuitive to ask the buyer about his former purchases when your first instinct is to keep the spotlight on your own product. But there are few questions that do more to close a deal.