Business Development Strategy

Whale Hunting Practice #18: Ask Better Questions

By November 30, 2009December 29th, 2015No Comments

If you are going to build your Whale Hunting sales process on the basis of answers that you need from the whale buyers at every step, then your sales team [harpooners and subject matter experts] will need to become very proficient question designers.  Asking great questions is an art; those who practice it successfully have a major advantage over their competitors.  I see it as a major business development strategy.

Really good questions have several characteristics:

  • they are open-ended, inviting a discussion, not a short answer
  • they are objective, requesting specific data and examples rather than speculation
  • they are historical, seeking to learn about past behavior as a prediction of future behavior
  • they are non-combative, inviting a thoughtful response rather than a defense
  • they are narrative, asking the listener to tell a story
  • they are process-oriented, focused on learning a sequence of steps in the decision-making

I recommend that you devote time with your team to practice framing questions and improving them.  Start with the standard questions that you ask in your sales process.  Then use the tactics above to revise them to get better answers.  Here are some examples:

Original:  “Who is the decision-maker in this process?”
Revised:  “Can you tell me all of the people or departments who will be affected by your purchase decision?

Original:  How will you make your purchase decision?
Revised:  Will you help me sketch out the steps your typical buying process?

Original:  Why do you want to change suppliers?
Revised:  The last time you changed suppliers, what were the reasons that motivated your team to make a change?

You get the idea–frame your question in a way to get more detail, a more thoughtful response, a sense of their decision-making process and history, a story or context of what is motivating their sales discussion with your company.

We would love to have examples of your favorite questions!  Your comments welcome.