Most sales people know enough to ask questions. And every sales person has heard a thousand times to listen more than they speak. However, most sales people interrogate rather than interview. The difference is; interrogating is about the sales person, and interviewing is about the prospect or C-level executive.
Interviewing questions open up C-levels and other prospects to reveal the triggers that will cause them to buy from that interviewer. Most prospects don’t try to keep secret their information. They usually never have an opportunity to expose it because the sales person takes over with interrogative questions.
Interrogative questions are self-serving. They are used to see if the prospect is interested in buying or choosing the interrogator, i.e., “Is this service (or product) something that you’d consider buying?” or “When will you be approving your software purchase?” Or, “What’s the budget? Has it been approved, yet?” Or “Who’s the competition?” Or “How can we help you with your software problems?”
These are all “I” or “me” questions. Executives want the discussion to be about them and they’ll deflect the “I” questions with ambiguous answers, stopping sales people in their tracks. This usually causes the interrogator to go into “convince mode.” That is, they try to explain why it’s so important for the executive to have their service/product. Trying to convince is annoying to the executive because there is no empathy. Empathy sounds like this; “Now I see what you’re really up against.”
Then there are the intrusive, interrogative questions, such as “How are you controlling productivity now?” or “Why are you using a manual system?” And the answer is, or should be, “Well, it’s none of your darn business.” These questions are sure to put executives on the defensive, which they don’t like, and they again deflect by saying, “Everything is fine. We’ll get back to you.”
So to interview C-level executives and other prospects and get them on your side, try the following.
1. Frame your opening questions around the individual and end it with “as it relates to…(your business)”. My favorite (after the greetings and cordialities) is, “So tell me, what are your issues or concerns as it relates to generating more sales?” My business is sales and I’d like to know how he sees his selling situation.
2. Don’t worry that the person doesn’t know what you can do for him. Once he knows you know his issues, he’ll be open to listen.
3. Watch and listen to a good interviewer on TV, YouTube or Radio. Notice how they ask questions and listen to the person. Then, they dig deeper, asking the person to explain further the meaning of the answers. Notice how they don’t interrupt, yet keep the person on track. Notice also how they are not trying to push their own agenda.
4. It’s important to role play with an associate, supervisor or coach. Be open-minded. You are probably not asking in the manor you think you’re asking. Record you’re session and listen to yourself. You will be amazed.
5. Notice how sales people work with you. Do they probe to see what you want, why you want it, and what the perfect solution for you would be? Or do they show you what they have and tell you how you’ll love it.
6. Develop a set of standard question you can ask any executive centered around the executive’s world; about the executive herself, her responsibilities, her issues and her future. Your question must illicit what you’d like to know about her visions (as it relates to your solutions), her paths to these visions, the details of the perfect solution, etc. Again, don’t worry she doesn’t know what you have to offer. She knows what she has and where she wants to go. You’ll have to do the fitting.
7. Practice your opening interview questions in front of a mirror. Try my favorites structured around your style. Practice how you’ll get the executive to clarify what she means by the power words she uses? For example, when she says she wants someone reliable, you say, “You mentioned you wanted someone reliable. What does reliable look like to you?” or “Explain your meaning of reliable.”
8. Prepare yourself to listen. Practice closing your mouth and listening to others with an ear to understand. Stop and think before talking to determine if you’re interrupting. If so, don’t stop her, because once you do, it becomes all about you.
Remember once C-level executives and prospects feel it’s about you, they want to run. Once they feel you understand their situations, they become very open to listening to you.