How to get the intel you need

If you have been in sales for any length of time, you’ve probably encountered a situation in which you’ve asked a prospect a question and received only stony silence in return. I know it’s happened to me.

Unfortunately, many salespeople allow these occasional situations to influence their future behavior, and this can have a negative effect on their results.

I recently overheard a seasoned salesperson question a prospect about a certain aspect of his business. When the prospect gruffly replied, “That’s confidential,” the salesperson immediately backed off and avoided asking any questions related to that issue for the rest of the call. When I later suggested an alternate approach to getting the information, the salesperson exclaimed, “No way! Not after the way he responded.”

Senior executives are used to asking and answering tough questions. Just because they balk at your first attempt to uncover information, doesn’t mean they won’t eventually divulge it. You just need to approach it differently.

Here are four ways to get better intel from your prospects:

  1. Be direct. Instead of saying “Can I ask what your current arrangement is costing you?” be more direct and ask “What is that costing you?” The first question is a request and can easily be refused. However, a direct question like the second one is more likely to generate the response you’re hoping for. If your prospect does not respond, wait for another opportunity and ask the same question in a different way.
  2. Show you know. Preface your question by demonstrating your expertise. “Some of the other companies in your industry tell me that this issue costs them upward of $50K. How does that compare with your situation?”
  3. Try, try again. Broach the topic later in the conversation by saying, “You mentioned that you are experiencing X. What impact is that having on Y?”
  4. Be upfront. Say something like, “I appreciate that that information is confidential. However, part of my job is to figure out exactly how we can help you. Telling me how X affects your business will help me build a solution for you.”

I will be the first to admit that it’s difficult to keep asking about a topic that appears to be off limits. However, don’t be put off by a prospect’s knee-jerk reaction. Instead, look for alternative ways to get the information you need. If you can muster up the courage, you’ll be way ahead of the competition.

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