Very early in the selling side of my career, I started using a written questionnaire. My first one was a monster. It was 45-questions long. I wrote it within two or three months of starting my company.
I had an appointment with a Lincoln Life general agent for a very important sales call. My plan was to sell an in-house seminar, get the money in advance, and go directly to the Los Angeles Times (I lived in L.A. then) and buy an ad for a public seminar with the money. I didn’t have the $1,200 needed for the ad, and I needed my Lincoln prospect to pay in advance for my seminar so I could buy my ad.
By this time, I was already a big believer in profiling. I had just never written them all down. Because of its importance in my plan, I was nervous about this sales call. I wrote my questions down because I was afraid I would forget something.
The afternoon of my appointment I typed my questionnaire on legal size paper and plowed my prospect (victim) through it. As we rolled into hour No. 3, he bought, probably just to get rid of me. I spent another hour explaining why he needed to pay in advance.
When I got the check, I drove straight to the bank, made the deposit, got a cashier’s check and then drove to the Times and bought the ad. I was afraid if I left the money in the bank I would spend it on something else.
After buying my ad, while the memory of my prospect’s ordeal was fresh, I went to a coffee shop, reviewed the presentation, and cut out probably half the questions.
Over the next few months I followed the same procedure. Immediately after a presentation I would review it and fine-tune the questionnaire (as well as the rest of the presentation), re-wording, cutting, adding.
I finally honed it to about 15 questions. By this time I was completely convinced that the better my questionnaire, the better my closing rate.
Why Write It?
I was recently chatting with a client who brought in $40 million in assets in 2006. Obviously, he’s no slouch as a sales professional. He had made the comment that when someone is having trouble closing, the real problem is most likely profiling. (I entirely agree with this statement.)
I asked him, “Is your profile written down?”
He said, “No. I memorized the questions. That way I don’t forget them.”
To which I replied, “If you put the questions down on paper, you will get even more and better information. There is some magic to a document you can refer to, and it’s an organized way to take notes.
He will be giving it a try and will report back to me.
Here’s why you get more and better information from a written questionnaire.
1. It’s more professional.
2. People are used to giving true answers to a written questionnaire.
Consider your trip to the doctor’s office. You first check in where they qualify you (“Who is your insurance carrier?”). Then they give you a questionnaire. It’s generally a 10th generation photocopy. You fill it out, answering all kinds of questions about the vile and loathsome diseases that have affected you and your family members. You calmly discuss the family history of insanity. You give this questionnaire to a complete stranger, and then you go into a room, take off all your clothes and sit on a cold metal table.
3. You won’t forget the important questions, which means you will get answers instead of the nothing you get to a question you forgot to ask.
Until you have done a few client interviews using a written profile, you cannot possibly know the difference.
Designing the Profile
Here are some characteristics of it.
1. It should start with closed-end questions that are very easy to answer.
Let me just confirm your street address. I have you down at 401 South Maple, correct?
And, Bob, you work at Acme Company. Mable, you repair brick in old houses, correct?