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Consultative Questions to Excite Decision Makers

10 Aug, 2004 By: Steven Power imageSource

Consultative Questions to Excite Decision Makers

The needs-assessment
step in the sales process is one of the longest-running traditions in the sales
profession. It is at the heart of sales training programs delivered worldwide.
In fact, sales training in this area is so similar from industry to industry
that I can go just about any place and ask salespeople to recite the
“standard-issue” questions they ask to determine a prospect’s needs or, as many
put it, to “qualify” prospects.

These qualifying
questions are usually served up in the first five minutes of the first sales
call and are designed to determine the prospect’s needs, decision-making time
frame, budget and decision-making authority. While qualifying prospects has
merits, when selling at the “Chief” level this old school sales technique can
not only be counterproductive, but can lead to being quickly relegated
downstairs to the purchasing department.

I believe you can and
should create competitive distinction in every phase of the sales process. I
also believe that your discovery process offers a perfect opportunity to go
“outside of the box” and ask some intriguing questions that your competitors are
likely not asking and your prospects are not expecting.

Top executives are
visionaries and conceptual thinkers. They live, breath and think about the big
picture. Many of them refer to this as viewing the world from “40,000 feet.” In
order to create competitive distinction at this level, you’ll need
thought-provoking questions that will capture their attention and hold their
interest. You’ll need questions that will cause prospects to pause and carefully
consider their answers.

◘ ◘
Consultative Due Diligence--the View from
40,000 Feet

The first three standard-issue consultative questions that consultants are
trained to ask a prospect are:

  1. What are your

  2. What are the
    challenges to meeting those objectives?

  3. What is the impact
    on your organization if those objectives are not achieved?

As I mentioned above,
top level executives are infatuated with the big picture and achieving their
objectives. They are constantly focused on the outcomes that they are personally
responsible for delivering. Those in the decision-making positions also
recognize their challenges and problems a mile away. They also understand that
there are consequences for not overcoming these challenges and delivering the
desired results.

If you want to
position yourself as a consultative resource to your prospects, get to know what
they’re trying to accomplish (their objectives), what’s keeping them from
accomplishing their objectives (their challenges), and what the ramifications
are (both negative and positive) if they meet or don’t meet their ultimate

◘ ◘
Taking it to another Level

Once you’ve asked the three standard-issue consultative questions, stay at the
40,000-foot altitude and continue to develop a clear understanding of the big

Ask your prospects
about their organizations’ current business initiatives. These are specific
projects currently being implemented throughout the organization. Examples are
supply-chain management, customer relationship management and sales force
automation, to name just a few. Other examples may include cost-cutting
programs, consolidation of workforces, shedding non-core business centers,
expanding sales into international markets, and launching new products or

Other questions that
will help you gain insight into the big picture include:

  • What significant
    changes are being made in your business model?

  • What are the top
    trends compelling you to examine the way you do business?

  • What strategic
    partnerships have you developed to assist you in meeting your objectives?

  • Which of these
    partnerships are most unique and powerful and why?

  • What pressures are
    you responding or reacting to?

  • What is the driving
    force being discussed in your management meetings?

There you have it.
Asking questions about objectives, challenges, impacts, initiatives, changes to
the prospect’s business model, trends, and strategic partnerships will give you
a clear picture of what’s going on at 40,000 feet. By asking consultative
questions you not only capture information that helps you determine how you can
help your prospects, but you also get their attention and hold their interest,
creating competitive distinction.

If you’ve implemented
your consultative questions well, your prospects are now saying to themselves,
“Finally, a salesperson who gets it at my level, someone who understands my
world.” This professional respect becomes the foundation of your relationship
with chief level decision makers and paves the way for further opportunities to
discover more about the prospect’s business environment, which naturally leads
to identifying selling opportunities along the way.

- - -

Steven Power is founder and president of Sales
Marketing Solutions International. He has trained more than 15,000
business-to-business sales professionals in 19 countries and 12 industries. He
is the author of “Power Selling,” which is available at

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