The Four Major Sales Questions

This week’s blog is by Andre Boykin, who provides tips and techniques to help sales professionals increase sales and earn more commissions on his blog Winning the Sales Game.

If you know anything about selling, you know that one of the keys to developing a winning proposal and selling it successfully is having the skill to ask questions. Asking questions engages your prospect and allows you to get the information you need to develop a unique proposal and solution.

While there is no limit to the information that you could get from a prospect, there are four questions that you must get answered for every sales opportunity:

  1. How will the prospect determine the best alternative to solve their challenge or problem?  You have to know the criteria that will be used to make the decision. Knowing this will help you develop a proposal that is focused on what the prospect is seeking. Rather than giving a generic proposal you will be giving one based on specific needs.
  2. Who will be involved in that process? You want to know who is going to be influencing the buying decision. Often, there will be more than one or even two people involved in a decision to purchase. While there is only one decision maker, there can be several who influence the decision. You want to make sure you have each of the buying influencers’ needs addressed in your proposal.
  3. What is the time frame for making a decision and implementation of the solution? Knowing when the decision will be made and when they want to implement can be very important in the development of your proposal. Not knowing this can lead to wasted time and effort. In addition, if the implementation is far into the future, it could affect your pricing.
  4. What is the budget? You want to know the budget so you can prepare a proposal that lines up with the needs of the prospect’s ability to pay. You could be thinking Cadillac while your prospect is thinking Chevrolet!

To get the answers to the four major questions you have to ask them. Practice doing so and watch your sales increase.

3 thoughts on “The Four Major Sales Questions”

  1. I like the approach.

    Keep it nice and simple.

    Too many people just get hung up about “open” or “closed” questions.

    I don’t care what TYPE of questions you ask as long as it moves the sale and your knowedge forward and this is accomplished by focusing in on these 4 areas.

    Good job.

    Sean McPheat
    The Sales Jedi

  2. This is a great starting place for really refining your sales strategy. Great post.

    I would add the one, additional and all-important question in the current era of the modern B2B buyer …

    What resources and opinions — outside of the dialogue with the sales person — will that person leverage (or have already leaveraged) as part of making their buying decision?

    In complex, high-dollar, consultative selling, B2B buyers are more savvy than ever, and have more information at their fingertips. Will they review analyst reports? Will they review blogs? Will they put a note on Twitter and say, ‘Hey, users of X product, what do you think?’

    I think it is more important than ever to think about this because it constitutes the parts of the buyer dialogue that are happening but that you may not either a.) perceive as happening or b.) understand the relationships with the one-on-one dialogue you’re having. It’s there, so let’s be more savvy as marketers and sales people about this issue.

    Adam Needles (w/ Silverpop)

  3. Andre: this is a good start. Like Sean, I believe focusing on “open end” or “closed end” questions misses the point. The central issue in asking the right questions is knowing what you need to uncover in the first place. That varies, depending on the situation. The questions you have outlined are excellent, and would work best for early lead qualification–although the same questions (or related ones) should be asked throughout the sales cycle.

    My suggestions:
    1) add a fifth category called “solution fit.” Early in the sales process, a salesperson must make a determination whether his or her solution fits the strategic and operational needs of the prospect (assuming B2B).
    2) Question #3: what you are really getting to is motivation, which provides richer information than timeframe. “Timeframe” gets straight to a number, which is helpful, but it doesn’t explain why.
    3) Question #4: “What’s your budget?” Some prospects will push back on this question. The trust factor enters: “Whatever I tell you is what you’re going to propose.” The real question behind “budget” is resources. In early qualification, a salesperson must make sure a prospect has the resources not only to purchase, but to implement a solution. For many engagements, budgets are not set early in the buying process, so asking the question specifically about budgets might yield misleading information, or no information at all. If the company is publicly traded, the financial statements often yield answers to the question “Do you have sufficient financial resources to purchase and implement my solution.”

    An article I wrote on the topic “The Right Sales Questions Will Get the Right Answers”:

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