"Big Picture" Questioning - How to Make the Most of Selling Opportunities

Imagine this scenario. You've had a meeting with a prospective customer who's expressed an interest in using your products or services. You've asked all the right questions, presented your solution, overcome any objections and are happy to have come away with the order. But reflecting on the meeting afterwards, you feel you could have made more of the opportunity. Does this sound familiar? 

A good proportion of my working life has been spent in sales and I learnt quickly that you need to understand the bigger picture within an organisation before focusing on any specifics. By doing so you're able to identify all the possible opportunities rather than just what's being discussed at that particular moment. It's the difference between an opportunistic, quick win and a more consultative sales approach where you're wanting to demonstrate added value through the entire portfolio of products and services you provide. Below is a technique that you might find useful. 

Refer to the original conversation.  After the initial rapport building, begin your meeting by thanking your prospect for their time and referring back to your original conversation, whether this was face to face or over the phone, where you offered up benefits to them in using you.

Signposting. Explain that you're keen to help them realise these benefits and that in order to do this you need to fully understand them and their business. For example, "What I'd like to do today is ask a few questions so that I can better understand your business. That way I can provide the best possible solution to meet your needs. I hope that's ok?" Your prospect will appreciate you taking an interest in them and approaching the meeting in a structured, professional way. 

The "Big Picture" question. It's so simple and yet so effective. By asking "Tell me about your business?" you're encouraging the decision maker to open up to you. You'll know that when you meet people for the first time they love talking about what they do, their business and other interests, if it's in a social context. The secret is to then stay quiet, acknowledge what they're saying through active listening and let them continue to talk with minimal interruption.

You should look to gather as much information as you can about the company, the people working within it and their roles and responsibilities, what products and services they provide to their own customers, the challenges they face and their plans for the future. If the decision maker doesn't provide you with this, only then should you interrupt and ask more specific questions so as to steer the conversation in the right direction. 

Clarification. You shouldn't ever feel embarrassed or shy away from asking your prospect to clarify any information that they've given you. In fact, they'll appreciate you being thorough. Remember, a misunderstanding at this point may lead you to offer an inappropriate solution later or include inaccurate information in a proposal. 

Having completed this first line of questioning, only then should you start asking more probing, open questions with reference to their existing or proposed usage of the products or services you're looking to provide. By asking a very open, basic question at the outset it's possible to identify many other opportunities other than the one specific area your prospect is initially interested in. You might have identified, for example, that the person you've met is responsible for procurement for several other sites or that they've just made an acquisition of another company which means that their likely usage could increase significantly. Fundamentally, if you can demonstrate a good understanding of a prospect's business and present back a comprehensive solution that meets all their needs, that should put you in a very strong, competitive position. Aim to be the salesperson who over time becomes the trusted advisor and then the business partner by consistently adding appreciable value that helps your customers move their businesses forward. Good luck with this approach!

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