Current Event-Based Questions: Selling Services Organically
Accountants and lawyers often remark that they did not go into their fields to become sales people. Most successful rainmakers in professional services admit it took them a long time to establish significant business and that they were more comfortable when the process seemed organic instead of intentional. To sell in an organic fashion implies that deals come about naturally. It sounds like luck when in fact it is often based on the seller’s ability to seize upon events in a timely manner and engage buyers by asking good questions to gather important information.
Learning how to ask questions, particularly the right questions, helps pique buyers’ curiosity and demonstrates your expertise. Questions should never be random. Your goal is to solicit information that can help you understand the prospects’ objectives, hopes, and fears. Try asking your prospect focused questions based on recent events. Your questions can be open-ended but you will establish more credibility if you can make a connection between the event and any similarity to their company’s operations, imperatives or governance policies, regardless of industry or business function.
A line of current event-based questioning might arise from a major news item. Perhaps a large publicly traded automotive company is faced with an emissions scandal. You are speaking with an executive of a small, privately-held medical device manufacturer. You mention the scandal and begin asking the prospect how many employees in his/her company are dedicated to navigating federal approval of new devices. You could continue this line of questioning by asking about how product design expenditures impact revenue growth and expand the conversation to include internal controls and crisis management. You’ll most likely be able to easily steer the conversation toward your legal or accounting expertise without seeming like you are on a sales mission.
Another type of event-based questioning arises from a specific matter at the prospects’ company. For instance, if you are aware that a company is relocating headquarters from California to Texas, you can start asking about the tax advantages the company hopes to realize and what impact management perceives the move will have on P&L for the coming year as well as existing employees and current vendors. Once you uncover needs, you can set the stage for discussing solutions by beginning additional questions with “does it make sense to…” or “have you thought about…” types of phrases.
Leveraging current events certainly requires time and effort but if you enjoy reading and researching, it’s more fun than work. Start a notes section on your phone and keep a log of possible topics that may come in handy. In time, you can perfect this type of questioning technique to suit your own style and service focus.
Brenda Pontiff is Managing Principal of Partner Track Academy. She received her master’s degree in speech communications and has developed business in the legal and accounting arenas, both in-house and as a consultant, for more than 25 years. Not only does she provide individual coaching to young lawyers and accountants needing business development support, she also frequently speaks at partner retreats and provides strategic consulting to managing partners and practice group leaders on an on-going basis. Follow her on Twitter @PartnerTrackA.