There’s no more frequent conversation between a sales manager and a sales rep than one that starts, “What are you going to sell this month?” And all too often, the rep’s projections come up frustratingly short of forecast. Here are five questions you can ask your salespeople to help you evaluate how much trust you should place in the accuracy of their forecasts. These questions will also help your reps focus on actions they can take to improve the odds of closing their deals.
1. What actions has the customer taken thus far in their buying process?
Most sales managers ask salespeople something like, “Where are we at with the XYZ sales opportunity?” But that question is focused on where the salesperson is at in their sales process, not what actions the customer has taken.
So don’t ask about the rep’s sales process. Instead, ask questions focused on where the customer is in their buying process and what buying behavior is occurring. For example, “Has the customer shared inside information? … Arranged a meeting with a 2nd decision-maker? … Called your references?”
There are two reasons to ask these questions: First, the actions a customer has taken are a much better indicator of if and when a deal will close. Second, you will be a more effective sales coach when your questions force salespeople to think about the customer’s point of view. Your reps will become much more focused on what actions they can take and what information they can provide to help a prospect move forward in their buying process.
2. What problems does this customer have that we can solve?
Note the plural “problems” in that question. If a salesperson has identified only one customer problem that your solution can address, the sale is more likely to fall apart.
Think of this way: Salespeople get an appointment because a new prospect is experiencing some type of dissatisfaction. But the mistake many salespeople make is not continuing to probe for a 2nd need that the customer may have. Often times, it’s the ability of a salesperson to identify a 2nd or 3rd customer need that distinguishes him or her as a true consultant in the customer’s eyes. The more plentiful and urgent the customer’s needs, the faster the buying decision typically occurs.
3. What are the customer’s top 5 buying criteria?
Many salespeople make the mistake of moving directly from identifying needs to presenting their solution. They forget to ask the customer, “What factors will be most important to you in your buying decision?”
The purpose of this sales coaching question is to make sure that your reps have thought about what solution requirements the customer will use to evaluate alternative offerings, and which of those requirements will be most important in the final purchase decision. Salespeople who understand a prospect’s specific requirements and how they rank in priority can deliver a much more persuasive presentation & proposal.
4. Who else are they talking to?
A salesperson who does not know which competitor(s) they are up against will be unable to communicate your company’s value proposition in a compelling way. From the customer’s perspective, comparing one solution to another ensures a better buying decision.
If a salesperson is unable to tell you who else is competing for this account then either that person forgot to ask the customer, or they don’t have a sponsor in the account—meaning there is no customer contact who is a strong supporter for your company. Asking this sales coaching question can help prevent your reps from being blindsided by a competitor that has snuck in the back door, causing your “sure thing” sale to tank (and ruin your forecasts).
5. What changes will you need to make in the future to make the most out of this coaching discussion?
In this question, you get sales reps to shift their focus towards the future. By this part of the coaching conversation you know what areas of weakness exist in the salesperson’s sales approach. But what matters most is does your salesperson know? To help ensure you don’t have to repeat the same points in the next sales coaching discussion with this rep, you want to help them think about how they can apply the broader lessons you’re trying to convey.
Becoming a better sales coach
There are two key purposes for this coaching conversation. One, obviously, is to better qualify forecasted deals and help the salesperson strategize on getting an opportunity back on track. The 2nd purpose is to develop your rep to do a better job of selling the next time.
In sales, there’s an axiom to “never tell when you can ask”: we can make more sales when customers tell us about their needs, challenges, needs, opportunities, criteria, instead of the other way around. The same principle holds true in sales coaching. Your goal is to help your salespeople get better at thinking critically about their opportunities and filling the gaps before they talk to you!