This was technically my first Jolt. I’d been to the launch of their Business Education Steering Committee, which you can read about here.
But this was my first proper course. An interactive group seminar, the title of which was “How To Ask Questions: Questioning Techniques To Ace Business-Sales Opportunities“.
Run by Adam Banning, uber successful salesman, sales trainer, author and radio host. Adam joined us in the Jolt classroom at their Soho HQ live from LA.
Good mix of people round the table. There was me and Hunted CEO James Silverman. Product Managers from big four accounting firms. A smattering of entrepreneurs. One policeman.
I was sat next to the copper. Turns out, a cybersecurity specialist. Who didn’t have anything to sell, but wanted to explore ways to be more convincing. Because free, police-issue solutions to cyber crime don’t sell themselves apparently.
That’s the point. Sales isn’t just for salesman. It’s for anyone whose job requires them to be influential.
One of the first points Adam makes on sales is:
The former’s great. It shows ingenuity. And every so often, you’ll catch a winner.
The latter’s something which works more often than it doesn’t. And if it’s tweaked to optimise success rates along the way, ‘best practice’ becomes a data-led justification for all the good ideas you’ve had growing your business.
Got any InMail templates that seem to win business more than they’re ignored?
Or a way of pre-empting a counter offer that means when the dreaded question does arise, it’s already answered?
Maybe you’ve got the formula for a job ad that performs well every time you unleash a new version of it on your market.
And do you now – knowingly – do more of what works and less of what doesn’t?
Replicating success is a smart thing to do. And one of the best ways to gain an advantage in developing consistency is to identify the buying habits of your prospects.
The terms refer to the kind of factors that influence a prospect’s decision to buy.
Internal people go off of personal experiences. External people go by reviews.
Adam uses an analogy of buying a car to highlight the difference in buying habits between the two customer types.
Internal people need a test drive before they make up their mind. They’ll use the opportunity to check the car’s got all the features they want.
Essentially, they want to experience that the product feels good.
Whereas external people will have likely read every review they can get their hands on, consulted with their mates, even expended a bit of effort spying on one in the wild.
They’ll have made up their mind before they even step into the showroom.
Because the factors that influence your prospect to buy should influence the type of language or materials you use in your sales efforts.
One way to determine what kind of customer profile your prospective clients meet is to ask this question right out the gate in cold calls:
“Oh I heard about you from colleagues” or “I’ve been on your website” is word of mouth and an external factor. These are prospects that may be more receptive to things like client testimonials, if that’s what aligns with their preferred method of scoping out the market.
You’ve got to be selective, but being consciously attentive to your client’s habits might well allude to the right sales channel – and approach – to use.
Regardless of the type of prospect you’re speaking to, the general consensus seems to be that extended sales pitches are best saved for formal presentations. And the best sales processes begin life as dialogue and end with both parties merrily conversing towards a mutually beneficial outcome.
Adam describes a pretty typical sales pitch. Time spent amounts to about 70% pitching, 10% asking questions and 20% listening.
What Adam recommends as being key to his career success, is to ask at least four times the amount of questions as everyone else. So his own ratios shifted to 20% pitching, 40% asking questions and 40% listening.
Adopting a more question-based approach to sales makes your pitches more interactive. It turns one way speeches into proper conversations, lowers guards, and justifies the Consultant bit of your job title.
Despite the fact you’re still selling – either a job, a candidate, or yourself – you’ll also sound like less of a salesperson. Which, in industries where everyone’s being sold to all the time, will increase receptivity to your approach.
You’ve heard it all before in recruitment. Had the same briefing call a hundred times. The same candidate call thousands of times.
There are situations where you just know what the person you’re speaking to’s going to say next. So, sometimes, without thinking, you finish their sentence. Either with them, or for them.
It’s validating. It shows you’re on the same page. It helps you shortcut conversations and get to the point at your pace.
Problem is, it’s an unconscious habit those of us with a gift of the gab picked up somewhere. And hurrying a sales interaction along’s the opposite of what you want to do. At best, it makes you look cocky. At its absolute worst, it’s alienating and disrespectful.
So stop it. It’s called the drop because that’s what you’ve just done with the ball, buster.
Trust me. Silence will be your best pal, if you let it.
Watch when politicians are being interviewed on TV, and the journalist’s dissatisfied with their answer.
They won’t say a word. They’ll eyeball their subject. Knowing their natural inclination will be to fill the silence. A tilt of the head here, a refusal to blink there, and before you can say “Theresa May’s leopard skin pumps” they’re off again. Seemingly compelled to justify their point.
This’ll give you more to listen to, and therefore more information to work with.
The difference between hearing and listening’s that hearing’s simply the registering of sound, whereas listening requires a greater degree of effort. And if you’ve put the effort in to listen to someone, you’ll want to prove it.
The easiest way to do that’s to repeat back what’s been said to you.
Not word for word. But using your prospect’s language in your response proves you’ve listened. And that demonstrates a level of consideration that’s more likely to be returned had you not bothered.
Active listening’s a vital part of any empathetic sales approach: a profoundly potent way to sell and an article in itself.
And if you really want to go the extra mile to demonstrate your active listening skills, write down what your prospect’s saying to you, while they’re saying it.
It’s obviously more noticeable if you wap out a notebook in person. But when you’re on the phone to someone and they’re sharing important information, there’s no harm in saying “hang on, let me just make sure I get this written down”.
In fact, it builds trust and shows an attention to detail that will only serve you well in future sales interactions.
Adam went in depth on 7 best practice questioning strategies. All of which involved more than simply directing a conversation with leading or rhetorical questions.
He explained – in detail, and with anecdotes – how to get your prospect onside by being mindful of opportunities to build rapport. Using questions to actively lower their guard and take them from a defensive mindset to a positive mood.
Lines of questioning that appeal to the ego of your prospects. Inviting criticism, including praising your competitors (obviously, in order to position yourself as even better). Even something as simple as asking ‘why’ more than once.
But underpinning each strategy was the central principle of inviting people to tell their stories.
People aren’t too fond of being interrogated. But get them telling a story, particularly about themselves, and it’s difficult getting them to stop.
So if you take that approach into rapport building, drilling down on pain points, and exploring solutions, it means you’re positioning your prospect at the heart of any sales conversation.
And if you were to ask them, I’d imagine that’s where they’d want to be.
So ask them what they want from a Recruiter. Ask them why. And don’t be shy about asking them what they don’t want as well.
Because with a bit of trust, they’ll tell you. And the information you’ll gain will influence the route you take in guiding prospects towards the right outcome for them. And ideally, you’ll get there conversationally.
Or you could of course just pick up the phone and go “HELLO MY NAME IS REECE I’M CALLING FROM FFS RECRUITMENT AND WE ARE A MARKET LEA
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