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The Death of Decision Making

Posted by Mark Trinkle on Fri, Apr 12, 2024

There have always been two certainties in life – death and taxes.

But I have now become convinced that there is a third certainty if you are a salesperson and that is the slow and painful death of decision making. Sure, prospects are still making decisions but there are some painful realities worth considering when it comes to how they make a decision:

  1. They are taking longer than ever to make decisions.
  2. They are involving more people in the decision-making process.
  3. The odds (while never really in your favor) are becoming increasingly in favor of the incumbent provider.

About five years ago the average number of people on a decision-making team was between 3 to 4 people for sales that were of some complexity in the B2B world. Now in 2024 most experts believe that number has increased to between 5 to 7 people who now make up the prospect’s decision-making group or team.

Why has this trend become the 3rd certainty in the life of a salesperson? I can give you 3 reasons:

  1. In a difficult or uncertain economy, prospects become very deliberate or conservative about making changes in existing relationships and/or spending money on new products or services. Spending freezes are not uncommon.
  2. Prospects take comfort in the “safety in numbers” approach. The thinking is that two heads are better than one…and six or seven seems even better.  The prospect’s belief is that this approach minimizes the chances that something will get missed.  And if something goes wrong, it is harder to blame a team of 7 as opposed to a single decision-maker.
  3. Buyers have fallen in love with the pursuit of consensus. But the problem is that consensus is rarely if ever reached.  After all, if everybody is thinking the same way about something then somebody is probably not thinking.

So how do you as a salesperson adjust? 

You must make sure you are having a conversation with all of the people (not some of the people) on the decision-making team. Is that a hassle? Yes, it is. But decision makers that are not accounted for during the sales process represent a huge red flag. 

And finally, you had better be incredibly effective in making sure that the existing relationship is breakable, and you must have demonstrated tangible proof of the value that you and your company can bring to your prospect.

Put the odds in your favor. Make certain that you have these issues uncovered and understood so that you have a more qualified prospect with a high likelihood of closing.

Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download



Topics: Sales Training, asking questions, motivating sales people, asking sales questions, sales training tips

5 Tips for Asking Your Prospect Better Questions

Posted by Walt Gerano on Fri, Apr 05, 2024

You don’t want to look, act, or sound like every other salesperson when asking your prospect questions. There is an art and a science to being masterful at asking your prospect better questions and building a strong, credible relationship with them. Read on to learn 5 tips for asking meaningful, exploratory, and courageous questions.

Now even though many of you think you have this skill of asking questions nailed, it would be interesting to have a microphone hooked up to you during your next sales call to find out if you really ask meaningful, exploratory, and yes, courageous questions.

Here’s the #1 tip: think ‘presidentially’ with your questions. It is probably the single most important piece of advice we can share with you when you are meeting with an executive of a company or with a head of household. Think about the things they think about and worry about.

Executives, owners, and heads of households usually think about the bigger picture, longer-term issues such as the well-being of their enterprise. So, ask them questions about that. What you sell is just a part of the overall picture. Instead of focusing on a specific loan need, investment strategy, or benefit coverage, think broader and ask questions like:

  1. What is getting in the way of reaching your revenue goals?
  2. How does this impact growth?
  3. What is the effect on turnover?
  4. If you had to find the money to cover this cost where would it come from?
  5. How does this investment affect your longer-term goals? 

You get the idea. Really seek to understand the challenges facing your prospect, not just the specific product need you might be able to solve. This separates you from the other salespeople talking and pitching product solutions. You will be solving business problems instead!

So, what about when your prospect asks you questions like: How big is your company? What kind of service guarantees do you provide? What other companies in our space do you work with?

Here’s tip #2: These questions are not their real questions. Get beneath their question by asking: "Joe, I want to make sure I address the right concern or question you have, when you ask ‘how big’, what is your concern relative to size?" The prospect will now give you a more accurate answer – for example – I want to make sure that you have the resources to take care of our entire footprint.

Questions like these will drive a much deeper conversation.

Here’s tip #3 and a rule of thumb for questions: Follow the leader (your prospect). Too often salespeople have their list of questions and are prepared to ask those questions. They want to follow the script, but the problem is the prospect doesn’t know their lines. You have to follow their lines or lead. Here is an example:

  • You ask a question – “How concerned are you that you won’t be able to come up with the cash to take advantage of the market opportunity?
  • The prospect says Very concerned”
  • You ask Tell me more about ‘very concerned’ what specifically are you concerned about?
  • The prospect says My concerns are xy & z”
  • You ask – “Why does xy and z bother you? What is the impact?”

This is how to get to the bottom of the real issues that need to be solved – not just the surface issues. 

Let’s say you have uncovered a prospect’s motivation to take action and you know that they have a real pain that is costing them. Hidden in the conversation though is another pain. The pain of change. Tip #4 – The key thing to remember is that there are two pains at work – the pain of not changing and the pain of change. The pain of not changing has to be substantially greater than the pain of change. So, with that in mind you have to ask about the pain of not changing:

Here are some examples:

  • How long has this problem been going on?
  • What happens if you don’t fix it?
  • What is the cost to you, the company, your family, or your community?
  • Who in your organization is impacted by this change and how will you handle that?

 Tip #5: Occasionally your prospect will want to transfer the pain...

“Well if we don’t do this then the company, the department, the marketing group, etc” will… Transferring the pain to someone else makes it easy for your prospect to ignore the problem. This is why you have to make it personal. When you ask the question: “What happens if you don’t fix the problem” and you get a “pain transfer” answer, you must re-ask the question. “I’m sorry Sally, what I meant to ask is this: Why is this a problem for you specifically if you don’t fix it?”

So, there are 5 tips you can use today, to get better at discovering what is really bothering your prospect. Go give them a try right now and see how they work for you.

Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download



Topics: Sales Training, asking questions, motivating sales people, asking sales questions, sales training tips

The Power of Open-Ended Questions in Sales & Sales Management

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Sep 15, 2022

Conversation is much more pleasant than interrogation.  This is important for an effective coach to remember because after two or three questions, a salesperson is going to feel like they are being attacked.  This is also true for prospects.

Great coaches ask great questions like “Bill, how did that linebacker get past you?”  If the coach tells him, “You’ve got to keep that linebacker from getting past you”, does Bill learn anything? Chances are he already knows he shouldn’t have let this happen.  By asking the right question and reviewing via the post-call debrief (similar to viewing the game film together), Bill will better analyze his own actions and discover what he failed to do. 

Note that the coaching question, “Bill, how did that linebacker get past you?” is an open-ended question.  In sales and sales management, it is best to avoid asking “yes” and “no” questions. They are not effective during the sales process or when working with and coaching salespeople.  Phrase your questions as open-ended. This will help to engage the salesperson, make him/her think before answering and get him/her involved.

Let’s say that you have a sales person who frequently fails to uncover the competition during the sales process.  You could ask him/her, “Did you find out about the competition?” or “When you asked the prospect about those firms being considered, what did he say?”

Can you tell which question is going to get a better answer and provide more insight?  Open-ended questions make coaching sessions more conversational and more engaging.  Open-ended questions will help the salesperson identify the gaps between what they are doing and what they should be doing. Open-ended questions gather more information.  

Let’s parallel this to a conversation with a sales prospect. Your salesperson has secured a first meeting and over the phone, identified a specific issue or pain that is the reason for the meeting. Are they equipped with a meaningful series of open-ended questions that are conversational in nature, so that the prospect does not feel like they are being interrogated?  Here are some of the open-ended questions we recommend in a first meeting sales conversation:

  • What has to happen today so that you feel that this was a great meeting?
  • Tell me more about that (assume you have uncovered some problem or issue).
  • How long has that been going on?
  • What have you done to fix it?
  • When you spoke to your current provider, what did they say? or
  • What has your current vendor done to make this problem go away?
  • What happens if you don’t fix this?
  • What is this problem costing you?
  • Is that a problem?
  • Do you want to fix it?

While there are several Yes/No questions at the end of that series, for the most part, that questioning technique is conversational and open-ended. The salesperson is genuinely interested in the answers to these questions so that they will understand if they can help the prospect.

Now back to the coaching parallel. Once the gaps between expectation on the call and actual execution during the call are uncovered with your salesperson, you need to gain agreement from the sales person that there is a gap before moving to the next step. Sometimes the salesperson will not see this immediately. Upon agreement, identify specific solutions and objectives to improve performance.  The key here is to identify solutions that will help the salesperson learn and grow. Do not just set data or results-based goals. 

An example of a learning objective would be to improve the percentage of contacts to appointments.  An increase in this percentage would indicate improvement in an initial-call skill. Improving the quality of initial calls would be a measurable objective because there would be a corresponding increase in opportunities created.  Be sure to document the identified, agreed-upon objectives and note the specific action items and corresponding necessary behaviors so that you enhance the salesperson’s probability of success.


Do You Need More Leads? –  Free Sales Prospecting eBook Download

Topics: open ended sales questions, asking sales questions, asking the right questions

4 Rules to Help Salespeople Maximize Initial Prospect Meetings

Posted by Tony Cole on Thu, Nov 05, 2020

How important is it that you or your sales team close more business, more quickly at higher margins?

If you think are leaving dollars on the table and need to find a solution to that problem, there are two things I want you to recognize:

  1. Your current sales process is perfectly designed for the results you (or your team) are getting today – if you are not closing as much as you believe you should, then there is something in your process that has to change
  2. That change starts at the beginning – the phone call to set up the appointment

The quality of the phone call will always determine the quality of the appointment. If your salespeople must have better initial calls then they must improve the quality of the phone call.

5 keys to coaching

To get you started, here are 4 rules for salespeople:

  1. How you say what you say is more important then what you actually say. You must ask questions and then really listen. If you tell stories, use metaphors and analogies. You need to have appropriate eye contact and body position, voice inflection, and background especially in today’s virtual world
  2. Nobody really wants to talk to you – this seems like a harsh rule- but if you know this going in, that will help you be better prepared to nurture the discussion
  3. You have 10 seconds to make a GREAT first impression. If you show up late for the zoom call or meeting, you’ve already lost. If you don’t have compelling and CEO like questions to ask that really engage your prospect, you are behind the 8-ball.  If the prospect cannot connect with you in the first 10 seconds, everything is uphill from there.
  4. Finally practice and record your opening dialog. Listen to it. If you were someone you’ve never met before - would you engage? (Sales coach, you should listen and provide feedback that is helpful to your salespeople)

Salespeople must have a strategy or plan for success going into the meeting. Not a plan that is developed in the car during the drive to the appointment but rather one that is thought out in a pre-call strategy session. Here are your two objectives:

  • The overall objective should be to have a go or no go at the end of the meeting – that doesn’t mean buy or don’t buy, it just means that you move to the next step or don’t.
  • The secondary objective is discovering as much as you can about your prospect’s motivation to meet and have the discussion you are having. Normally this involves a pain they want to eliminate or an opportunity that they want to leverage. Find out their compelling reason to take time out of their schedule.

One thing we know for sure, prospects don’t take time out of their schedules unless there is an underlying reason. As salespeople, our job is to find out what it is.

Need Help?  Check Out Our  Sales Growth Coaching Program!


Topics: Initial Sales Call, sales techniques, asking sales questions, initial sales meeting

Developing Rapport Quickly with Sales Prospects

Posted by Jack Kasel on Fri, Jan 06, 2017

sales-rapport.gifA guest post by Jack Kasel, Sales Development Expert, Anthony Cole Training Group

Rapport can be the fertilizer to help develop relationships quicker and with deeper roots.  However, most salespeople confuse rapport with having things in common.  Hello, everyone, this is Jack Kasel bringing you the latest Anthony Cole Training Sales Brew—Developing Rapport.

Most salespeople, upon entering a prospect’s office for the first time, become Robo-Salesperson – scanning the room for something to make a witty and insightful comment about.  When they hone in on a picture on the desk, they ask, “Is that your family?”   The prospect may answer differently, but is thinking “No, that’s the family of the person who had this office before me.  I liked his family better, so I kept the picture.” (Pause) “Of course, it’s my family, Captain Obvious.”

Don’t get me wrong; making those observations are helpful, but needing to be mentioned at the right time and mentioning it “right off the bat” isn’t the right time.  Why?  Because 10 out of the 12 previous salespeople who called on your prospect did the same thing.  You don’t want to be like all the other sales people; be different, be memorable.

Our definition of building rapport is this:  Prove you belong at the table.   You prove you belong at the table by the way you conduct yourself, the questions you ask and how you manage the interaction with the prospect.  That includes how you open the call.

We suggest two things when opening the call:

  • Don’t thank them for the meeting
  • Ask a great opening question

The opening statement could sound something like this: “I’m glad we could coordinate our schedules; I’m looking forward to our conversation.”   If we give the impression we are just a lowly salesperson, it doesn’t create “Equal Business Stature.”  They are professionals, we are professionals; we are going to have a professional business discussion.  IF we give the impression we are so grateful they could fit us in to their busy schedule, that doesn’t get the conversation started correctly.  Remember: our time is just as valuable as theirs, so act like it.

Asking a great opening question may sound like this, “Mr./Ms. Prospect, What do we need to discuss over the next 40-45 minutes that would make you say, ‘I’m glad we scheduled this meeting’  OR  ‘This was a good use of my time today’?   That forces them to talk about things important to them and gets the meeting started correctly.

As I mentioned earlier, discussing things on a personal level (sports, interests, hobbies, etc.) is best saved for when you are closing up the meeting.   That can bring a personal touch to the conversation; just make sure it’s done at the proper time – which is the end of the meeting, not the beginning.

Additional Resources:

4 Steps for Creating a Dazzling Client Experience by Walt Gerano


Topics: Sales Strategies, close more sales, rapport with sales prospects, asking sales questions, initial sales meeting


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    Anthony Cole Training Group has been working with financial firms for close to 30 years helping them become more effective in their markets and closing their sales opportunity gap.  ACTG has mastered the art of using science-based data and finely honed coaching strategies to help build effective sales teams.  Don’t miss our weekly sales management blog insights from our team of expert contributors.


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