Best and Worst Questions to Ask in Printing Sales
While it is valuable for a salesperson to ask questions — of him/herself, to and about customers, etc. — there are good questions and bad questions. Good questions are the ones that improve sales productivity, help understand what is being done well, and make for happy clients and motivated salespeople. Bad questions demonstrate a lack of understanding of what’s important, expose bad time management, and shine a light on customer-killing assumptions. While there are lots of options, here are the five best and worst:
Five Best Questions to Ask
- “Do I have enough identified opportunities?” Before a prospect becomes a customer, and before an order is placed, it’s an identified opportunity. Prospecting is a process of kissing frogs and shaking trees, calling on the right kinds of customers with well-researched solutions results in a list of potential projects.
Each is on a different pace — one that requires ongoing activity and attention. The very goal of prospecting is to identify a set of opportunities robust enough to result in reaching sales quotas. A successful month is step one. Stringing together a series of successful months requires constant additions to this list. Got enough?
- “What is the best use of my time right now?” This is a one-size-fits-all, never a bad time to ask, kind of question. It applies in both business and personal settings. It should be asked several times a day to ensure good decisions are made, more important tasks are engaged, and no squirrels are chased.
Note: Don’t assume the answer is always business- or sales-related. Sometimes the best use of your time might be to relax, take a break, and recharge. Adults need recess, too.
- “What are today’s top priorities?” Every day involves “have to’s” and “want to’s.” Good question No. 2 will see to it that the former is done before the latter. But every day there are things that, if nothing else is accomplished, must get done.
The first step in that process is to identify exactly what those priorities are. This is a question that should be asked prior to the end of the previous day. There’s more to say here, but bad question No. 3 will take it from here. Stay tuned.
- “What are three things I’ll do before end of business Friday?” At the end of every week, come up with a list of tasks you’d like to complete by the end of the following week. It’s a great way to get things done. If you are a sales manager, combining this activity along with a weekly meeting holds the rep accountable, while providing answers to one of your top questions, “What is my sales rep up to?”
- “Why do people buy from me?” Two salespeople working for the same company, in the same territory, going after the same accounts, can have two radically different groups of clients and two different target markets.
Each sales rep must understand what it is about her or him that makes a client likely to do business with them. Is it personality? Is it age? Is it gender? Is it communication style? Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “Blink” in which he talked about thin-slicing and making quick decisions. Answers to this question will help the sales rep understand the kind of client they should be going after in a blink moment.
Five Worst Questions to Ask
- “Who buys the print?” Is it your goal to be the highest priced printer — the one who never gets awarded the job because there’s always someone cheaper? If it is, then this is one of your best questions.
But if you’d rather solve problems and earn orders, if you’d rather build a loyal customer base, if you’d rather work with decision-makers not just buyers, do not focus on the print needs but rather the business needs.
First, research the client prior to the start of the prospecting process. Second, find a way to finish the sentence that starts, “The purpose of my call is … ” without talking about print. Finally, find the name and contact information of the person who cares the most about the issue you have uncovered. Following these steps avoids price altogether.
- “Will I get the chance to rebid?” Let’s say you are buying a car. You ask for a price and the sales rep points at the sticker glued to the window. You ask for a better price and suddenly $1,000 disappears. You ask, “Is that your best price?” and suddenly it’s the sales rep who disappears, this time into the manager’s office to — ahem — advocate for you and come up with the best possible number.
Returning to the conference room where you are waiting, the sales rep says, “Here’s the best I can do, but if you don’t like it, can I have just one more opportunity?” Asking for a chance to rebid is like saying to the client, “I can do better. Just ask me.”
If you have done your job as a salesperson, you should be able to substantiate and stand up for the price you are asking. You already have answers to the client’s price objections ready. If not, you didn’t deserve the job anyway.
- “What will the day bring?” Back to time management … Starting the day with this question means you’re already behind. You should have a plan, one that was made before you went home the day before.
The key to effective time management and increased sales productivity is preparation. Begin each day knowing who you need to call on, what your top priorities are, and which tasks demand your attention first. Ignore this suggestion and your day will look a lot like a game of “Whack-a-Mole.”
- “Does the client know how amazing I am?” If you lose an account because you are under-bid, that’s life. If you lose an account because they move away, that’s unfortunate. But if you lose an account — one you did amazing things for — because you assumed everyone knew about your 100% on-time delivery, that time you drove through a snowstorm to drop off a job, or how their last mailing yielded double-digit response rates, that’s on you.
When something goes right, send the client a thank-you email outlining the details and then CC everyone. Make a deposit in the bank of goodwill. You might need it one rainy day.
- “Where should I take my business next?” This is actually a very good question to ask, but you should never need to ask it if you are paying attention. Your clients have the answers. If you are doing your job (there’s that phrase again), you know what their challenges are and where they are headed. Our job as salespeople is, in part, to get there first and anticipate future needs. Go into new technology when the client leads you there.
Ask the right questions. Avoid the wrong ones. Don’t stay static. Question assumptions. Every once in a while, pull your head up out of the sales activities you are performing and scan the horizon to make certain you are heading in the right direction.
If you don’t, you could end up in the kind of job that has just one question: “Do you want fries with that?"
Bill Farquharson is a sales trainer for the graphic arts. Email him at Bill@AspireFor.com or call (781) 934-7036. Bill’s two books, The 25 Best Print Sales Tips Ever and Who’s Making Money at Digital/Inkjet Printing…and How? as well as information on his new subscription-based website, The Sales Vault are available at BillFarquharson.com.