Today's post is by Nick Kane, managing partner at Janek Performance Group. He has trained more than 15,000 sales professionals worldwide and is passionate about helping sales professional improve their selling careers – as well as their lives. He is co-author of Critical Selling: How Top Performers Accelerate the Sales Process and Close More Deals.
The conversation with your prospect is going well. You think you have a good chance at eventually closing; then, he asks a question you never anticipated. Thrown, you stand there with your mouth open. A few weeks later, the prospect signs with a competitor. You know you lost when you got stumped by the curveball question.
Every sales rep has struggled to answer a curveball question from prospects at least once. The question (no irony intended) then becomes: How can we develop our ability to think on our feet during conversations with prospects?
Here are three approaches to try the next time a prospect asks a question and you don’t know how to answer it. Practice them often enough and you’ll develop the ability to respond effectively and quickly to questions that surprise you.
Tip #1: Clarify a curveball question with questions of your own.
Instead of scrambling to answer a question that catches you off guard, consider asking the prospect a follow-up question in return.
Some questions surprise you because they’re confusing, or their relevance to the conversation isn’t immediately clear. Sometimes a question that seems to come out of the blue is a mask for a hidden need or an objection, but the prospect can’t find the right words or is perhaps unaware of his or her their real concern.
Asking follow-up questions can establish clarity, draw out the real issue, and provide a base for answering the question in a way that clearly addresses concerns or issues and moves the conversation forward.
Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.
Whether it’s a fib, a not-wholly-accurate statement, or a conscious and deliberate deception, one of the fastest ways to lose a buyer’s trust (and the sale) is to lie. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of sales reps wouldn’t ever deliberately lie to prospects or customers, but, in the moment, it can be tempting to fudge or hedge your answer so as not to appear incompetent.
The reality is, being honest is part of thinking on your feet. Saying something like, “I’m not 100 percent certain, but will find out after we finish and get back to you with an accurate answer” will go much further in establishing your credibility than trying to give a partially correct answer – especially if lack of complete disclosure causes problems for the client down the line. In this scenario, following up on your promise to track down the right desired information is critical as well.
Tip #3: Keep cool.
It can be nerve-wracking to face a difficult or unexpected question, but stay calm and collected. Remind yourself customers ask questions that, no matter how seemingly unrelated or unimportant, speak (overtly or subtly) to their concerns. As a trusted advisor, your job is to uncover and address those issues – even if that sometimes requires an extended dialogue.
Remember: The buyer asking questions, even odd ones, is a sign they’re still interested in what you have to say and is listening. Otherwise, the prospect wouldn’t be taking the time to continue the discussion.
Although curveball questions can be stressful, they should, like most objections, be welcomed as opportunities. Thinking quickly and staying confident will allow you to address the buyer’s concerns, strengthen the relationship, and improve the probability of a future sale.