Asking the right qualifying questions for a perfect sales call.

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David Marshall from SalesGRID interviewed Tim Wackel, Founder of his own company ‘Tim Wackel‘ in October 2021. Tim is an expert in sales and has spent his life perfecting the sales call.

Watch the interview here or read an edited transcript

David

David

Welcome to the SalesGRID podcast series. I’m David Marshall from SalesGRID. Today I’m delighted to be welcoming Tim Wackel to our podcast today. Hello, Tim. 

Tim

Tim

Hello, David, how are you doing today? 

David

David

Awesome thanks Tim. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.

Tim

Tim

So, David I’ve been in the pursuit of a perfect sales call for almost four decades now. I spent two decades, in corporate America, helping lead manage and grow sales teams and for the last 20 years, I’ve had my own sales practice where I get hired by sales executives to come work with their teams and help their teams perform at a higher level.

David

David

Wow, I love that idea of the perfect sales call. How achievable is that? Is that something that you’ve achieved on many occasions? Or is it just like some sort of utopian sales dream?

Tim

Tim

It is utopian. I’ve never achieved it! But what I will tell you is that in 40 years, my sales calls have gotten much better. And it’s, iterative, I mean, sales calls are nonlinear. You’ve got personalities involved, you’ve got people involved, you’ve got stress involved. But I’m always looking for that perfect sales call.

David

David

I love that. At SalesGRID we are working to put more science and rigour into sales to reduce some of the unnecessary uncertainty in sales. So, I love that idea of the perfect sales call.

So yeah, there are so many things you sometimes do that are unnecessary. But today, we’re going to be talking about qualification, and how to successfully qualify customers and opportunities during the sales process

I think this is an incredibly important topic to talk about, because it goes to the core of sales management in terms of how we’re allocating resources and, not just for your own benefit, but actually for your customer’s benefit as well.

So let’s get into it. 

 

I guess the first question today is if you look at a successful qualification process it’s built firmly on the reps ability to ask outstanding qualification questions. So for you Tim, what are some of the bigger do’s and don’ts when it comes to asking qualification questions?

Tim

Tim

So this is a topic David that’s really kind of near and dear to my heart because when I think pre COVID when I would do ride alongs and post COVID when I do listen ins on sales calls, I think the questions that most salespeople ask today, they’re just mind-numbing, you know.

So, I cam ask you about “need”, “budget”, “timeframe”, “fit”, “decision-making process” etc.  … that might be useful information for me. But it’s really not taking you anyplace new, right?

You’re going to answer those questions thinking, “this is old data”, and I’m just giving him the same data I’ve given every other sales rep! And my concern is “he’s going to turn around and use that data against me to get me to do something I don’t necessarily want to do.”

So when I look at it the qualification process and what salespeople do right and what salespeople do wrong. You know, the first thought I would leave your audiences is that too many of us think we demonstrate our brilliance through what we say.

And I’m here to tell you that you don’t demonstrate your brilliance through what you say. You demonstrate your brilliance through what you ask. Salespeople that think they can jump into a sales call and just wing it, I think they are sadly misinformed. And so when it comes to some of the bigger do’s and don’ts, really there’s three do’s that I try to teach sales teams, when it comes to asking great qualification questions David. 

Ask open-ended questions

The first do is you want to make sure you’re asking open questions. Now you know this drum, people have been beating the drum of asking open questions for years. Okay, but here’s the deal. Most people have a much harder time asking open questions than they realise, and it’s important to realise that, closed questions are not just Yes, no questions. Closed questions are, you know, if I asked you, where are you from? That’s a closed question.

So number one, we want to make sure we’re asking open questions because that draws the other party into the conversation. I know this sounds so fundamental, but trust me, we, as a culture, sometimes just want to get to the facts. 

Ask unique and thought-provoking questions

The second criteria is you want to make sure that you’re asking questions that are unique and thought-provoking. 

Okay, so how do you know when you’re asking something that’s unique and thought-provoking? Well, two things are gonna happen. The first thing that happens David, is you’re going to ask the question, and there’s going to be a pause. And the reason there’s a pause is that it’s a thought-provoking question, right? If you’re asking qualification questions, and you get an answer immediately, guess what? This isn’t their first rodeo!

Okay, so you want to make sure you’re asking questions, that gets the other party to go … wow. So there’s going to be a pause. That’s the first thing you’ll recognise. And then the second thing you’ll recognise is the first words out of their mouth will be something like, wow, you know what? That’s a good question. 

My experience is your customer, your prospect will tell you when you’re asking great questions because it’s a completely different experience for them. So the first thing is, I want to make sure I’m asking open questions. The second thing is I want to make sure they’re unique and thought-provoking. 

Good questions need context

And then really the third and final criteria, David is really good questions, beg to have context. And context is a preamble, if you will, context is me communicating to you “this is why I’m asking you this question”. 

Let me give you an example. Here’s a question that will be open and unique and thought-provoking. But will have no context:

‘David help me understand, what are you doing to help your sales team improve their follow up skills?’

Okay, open, unique, perhaps thought-provoking but with no context. You have absolutely no idea where I’m coming from. Versus …

‘Hey, David, an article that I read last year, states that 80% of new business opportunities today require at least five failed attempts to connect, yet most salespeople, like 82%, give up after just three tries. Let me ask you a question. What are you doing to make sure your team has the proper follow-up habits in place?’ 

Now we’ve got some context! And now the David’s of the world, are like, Whoa, slow down. Where was this research from? What does that mean? I don’t show up as somebody who’s just asking for information, I’m also giving information.

So this context kind of sets the stage. I mean, if you watch, they’re getting harder and harder to find, but if you watch somebody in the news, that is really, really good at interviewing, there’s always context. It’s like,

‘Hey, given the situation in Afghanistan, what we’re seeing in the US markets Today, I’d like to ask you the following.’

So you put context around your framework around it. And to me, that’s what makes questions Great. So open, unique and thought-provoking and have some context around why are you asking me this question?

David

David

Wow. So I guess you’d be advocating that salespeople should actually prepare for the meeting right? Cause that takes time to actually come up with them, you don’t just pull these out of your back pocket.

Planning

Tim

Tim

You are right in the middle of the bullseye. Because here’s the deal. When I work with audiences, when I work with salespeople, I’ll ask them two questions. How much time do you spend planning and preparing for each and every sales conversation? And if they’re honest, they say little or not enough.

And then the follow-up question is the time that you do spend in planning for sales conversations, what percentage of that time is really focused on here’s what I’m going to say? Versus what percentage of that time is focused on here’s when I need to ask conclusions are twofold. 99% of salespeople will say, you know what, I don’t spend enough time planning and preparing, and the planning and preparation I do is focused more on what am I going to say? And not – what am I going to ask? 

So yeah, you know what, you’re going to have to spend some time planning and preparing. But here’s the deal. I carry with me, David, a library of 100 qualification questions that I have developed over the years. So when it’s time for me to plan and prepare, I’m not starting, you know, with a blank piece of paper, I go to my library, and I go, hey, here’s a good question to ask, and this would be a great question to ask, and this is something that begs to be asked right now. So yeah, it takes some work. It takes some effort. But you know, if you want to be the best of the best, it takes work, and it takes effort.

David

David

And I think about how I behave myself in some sales calls. And there’s a risk isn’t there, the more expert you get in your field, and the more you learn about the product and your domain you feel like you can just wing it. Because then maybe you can pull the question out of the proverbial but you don’t do that preparation, right? Because you’re comfortable and you’re probably missing all these opportunities to differentiate through the sales process. I think your points about providing insight in context are really powerful.

Tim

Tim

Yeah, you know, I’m supposed to be some expert at it. But full disclosure. There are times when I am busy, or I’m running a little bit behind schedule, and I’ve got an interaction coming up and I’m like, you know what, I’m good. Look at all the grey hair. I teach this I don’t need to prepare.

And I will promise you that interaction is not what it could’ve been or should have been, had I simply spent 10, 15 or 20 minutes planning and preparing. And when I do plan or prepare, I look at my notes and it’s like, oh my gosh, I’ve got the complete story. I’ve got the beginning the middle and the end, there are no holes in my information. And now I know how I can manage this opportunity. Now I know how I can grow this opportunity. And I’m not left going ah geez, I should have asked about this, that or the other thing.

David

David

I see what you mean by your mission to get to that perfect call! 

Tim

Tim

Exactly. Yeah.

How does it fit into the sales process?

David

David

And so are these sorts of questions with qualification, is it just a one-off event in your mind in the process, or do you see it as a journey in the sales process?

Tim

Tim

I think it’s a journey. I think throughout the entire sales process, qualification should always be happening, right? Because you and I can have a conversation today, and I can get a snapshot of your world today. And we can talk in two weeks. And if I don’t go back and revisit and reconfirm in two weeks, a lot of things can change.

Salespeople become naive because they think that oh, well, you know what, we talked back in July. So this data must still be true. And you don’t know that. So I think salespeople that are really at the top of their game, that the qualification process per se, is happening throughout the selling engagement throughout the selling dialogue.

David

David

Cool. Yeah, I totally agree. A really good question I hear consistently from a colleague I work with which is very effective. He always starts with,

‘What’s changed since we last met.’

Which is so simple, but I suspect a lot of people don’t actually ask and it always amazes me how many times it actually throws up new information or a new take or when you’ve got someone else in the meeting that wasn’t there previously.

So what are some of the biggest mistakes you think that salespeople make in this whole area of qualification?

Mistakes to avoid

Tim

Tim

Well, you tapped into it just a few minutes ago. They don’t plan, that they feel that they can wing it. And I am here to tell you that you need to plan and prepare your questions in advance. And then the second thing is the questions that they are asking as I said, they’re very selfish, you know, it’s BANT, right. It’s all about, give me information that I can put into my CRM so that my monthly funnel report looks good.

Okay, I get that. But your customer doesn’t give a rat’s behind about your funnel or your CRM. What your customer wants, your customers are begging for … Here’s the deal, David, I believe the only reason customers talk to salespeople is because they really want help! Yeah, I mean, if I can get by without dealing with a salesperson, – and I’m a salesperson – I just hit the Buy Now button. 

So when I engage a salesperson, it’s because I really don’t fully understand my problem, nor do I understand the possible solutions to my problem. And so the salesperson that just starts pitching it’s like okay, you’ve lost me but the salesperson that’s like okay, help me understand.

Where are you at?

What have you tried?

Why didn’t it work right?

What are you hoping for?

What’s the perfect solution look like?

You know a person that draws that out of me it’s like oh my gosh, I liken it to going and visiting your doctor right hey, you know take two of these call me in the morning versus No, we had a really really good 20-minute conversation and he asked me about my diet he asked me about my exercise he asked me about how I was sleeping He asked me about the stress level in my life. I feel like this doctor gets me! Well, customers want to be able to say that about their sales reps – they want to feel like “this sales rep gets me.”

How to create solid opportunities

David

David

Yeah, I think that the doctor analogy is always a good one, isn’t it? Again it’s this whole mindset of, particularly there’s pressure, there’s funnel pressure, pressure to do your numbers, do 10 meetings a week or whatever. And so that pressure to churn through activity takes away from the ability to think more like a Doctor? It actually stops you from thinking clearly.

It’s all great stuff. And I guess, finally, when we think about qualification, do you have any tips to ensure that reps are working on solid opportunities? Not just chasing up prospects with a mild or passing interest?

Tim

Tim

Yes, I have a tip. I’ve been teaching this concept called “Hopium” for a number of years. I ask how many of you are willing to admit you might have a little bit of a “Hopium” problem? And you know, at first, people are a little bit taken back. It’s like do we need to call HR. What’s going on here? To me, oftentimes salespeople and I’m guilty of this, we don’t want to go after bad news. Right? All we want to hear is that the sun will come out tomorrow. And, you know, that is life, we don’t always ask the hard questions.

Let me back that up. I’m not going to say that. We don’t make it easy for the customer to tell us the truth. Oftentimes, salespeople will be like, well, the deal fell apart or it wasn’t a real deal because you know what, the customer wasn’t honest with me. And it’s like, wait a minute, I don’t think that was the case. The customer is not being honest with you. I think the way you asked questions, made it difficult, painful even for them to be honest with you. Let me give you a really simple example. 

‘Hey, David, would you like me to go ahead and put together a proposal for you?’

So that is one of the worst questions we as sales professionals can ask. Because here’s the deal, if I make a sales call on you, David, and I’m a rock star, I’ve done my homework, I understand your industry, I’ve done work with others in your space, I run an absolutely awesome discovery with you. And you’re like, wow, this guy’s really good. And I go,

‘David, do you want me to go and put together a proposal?’

You’re gonna say yes, because you really want a proposal.

If on the other hand, my twin brother makes the sales call on you and he is just a hot sweaty mess, right? He hasn’t done his homework knows very little about you has not done any work in the industry. Just blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And you’re like, looking for an excuse to get out of it. And if that twin brother of mine says,

‘Hey, David, you want me to go and put together a proposal’

You like most other human beings are gonna say sure. Because we don’t like confrontation, right? And you know, the minute you say sure to my twin brother, that you’ll never have to deal with them again. And this conversation is ‘fixin to get over‘ as we say here in Texas. So “would you like me to put together a proposal?” is Hopium doing its work. 

Now, let me spin it without Hopium. 

“David I’ve really enjoyed our time today and you know, man, I’d love to be able to do business with you guys. But I sense that putting together a proposal is still a little bit premature. What are your thoughts?”

See, I’m not looking for a yes like in the previous example, if you like me, and I go, “Hey, I think it’s kind of premature.” You’re gonna be like,

‘No, no, Tim, I want the proposal’

Right? Bring it to me. You’re begging me to go to that next step. My twin brother though, if my twin brother says

‘Hey, I sense it, it’s still a little premature. What are your thoughts’.

You’re gonna be like, you know what, you’re right, it’s premature. So I always talk about you know, if you want to make sure you’re working on the right opportunities, make sure your customer is seated in the exit row and make sure they know how to open the door. Make it easy for the customer to get off the pipeline bus.

Too many salespeople get a couple of yeses, get a couple of nods, and they put the customer on the pipeline bus and they weld the door shut! Then, three months later, there’s no opportunity and they’re like well I don’t know what happened. It’s like Dude, you never ever gave that customer an opportunity to exit. You never gave them the opportunity to opt-out and you know, nobody wants to hurt your feelings!

So you have to hurt your own feelings to be like “Hey, I just sense like this deal is not going to happen this month. Can you help me get you to understand what should I be doing differently?”

Put the bad news out there and give the opportunity for the customer to just go, Yeah, or No.

David

David

I love evocative words that anchor things – a word to jolt you out of the complacency. What did you call it? Hopium ? That’s like, I think of Hopium as like this drug that infects pipelines around the world, right? Where sales forecasts, Sales Forecasting is always so optimistic because the reps and managers doing the numbers are high on Hopium, right? 

Tim

Tim

Well, it is and it takes huge courage, but to be able to say, you know, gosh, this sounds like it might be a good opportunity. But you know, I’m just not absolutely convinced you’re committed to maybe taking the next step David, I mean, can you help me get religion?

Can you help me understand why in the world you’d want to move forward? I mean, sometimes the best way to sell is to put it back on the customer and let the customer sell you because if the customer can’t sell you, they ain’t gonna be able to sell anybody else inside the organisation.

David

David

That is absolutely bang on. There are so many deals that fall over because they can’t be sold internally. Yes. That’s a good one. I’ll just throw you one – a great guy out of the UK, Gary Delbridge. He had a term called “happy ears”, which is the same thing as Hopium. I love that, we just want to hear all those little signals that sound nice. And then we go back to our sales managers, to give them the good news by welding the doors shut on the pipeline bus!

Tim

Tim

Yeah. And I’m into, putting the customer in the exit row when you open the door so that at any point in time that customer can get off the bus. Always make it easy for the customer to get off the pipeline bus, because the customers that wants to do business with you will stay on the pipeline bus.

Drawing out information

David

David

That’s great, Tim. And just a final question, just maybe to kind of wrap it up. You mentioned BANT. And, obviously, there are good reasons why salespeople need to, as part of their process, there are certain things they need to tick off like MEDDPIC and all these different types of methodologies for qualifying opportunities. So they do need to extract information. Is that just part of the planning? You’re not going to customers and saying directly? Are you my coach? Or Do you have the budget? You’re saying that you just need to think carefully through your questioning to sort of draw that information out?

Tim

Tim

Yeah, yes. Because I think we can get to the BANT. We can get to the need, budget, timeframe, decision-making> We can get to that if we ask a better question and don’t focus on that. But focus on that information, being part of the story, I want the customer to tell me a story. You know, I’ll sometimes say, you know, hey, this, is a big investment you guys are making. And a lot of times there’s a lot of uncertainty and doubts about making this type of investment. Tell me a little bit about how you guys came up with your number. 

So my context is, you know, there’s uncertainty, there’s doubt. I’m curious, how did you come up with your number? When I ask how did you come up with your number? They tell me how they came up with the number, they tell me, who was involved in coming up with the number more often than not, they volunteer the number. But if I just asked, What’s your number? They’re like, No, I’m not telling you that. So that’s why, you want to think about here’s the end result, here’s the data I want to extract. But now I want to ask a bigger, better question that the data is part of the answer.

David

David

I think you mentioned you had a list somewhere of your 150 questions. I’d love to see that list someday. I’d bet there are some great questions there. And again, it’s not just about us, as the salesperson trying to get a better result and get to that perfect call. It’s about a better experience for the customer where you’re actually helping the customer, right?

Tim

Tim

Well, the one question you mentioned earlier, you know, asking them “What has changed?” I think that that’s a home run question. And here’s another freebie for all of your listeners is at the end of it. At the end of conversations with customers, I like to ask, 

‘Hey, what’s, what’s the one question that you wanted me to ask, that I didn’t ask you today?’

And you’d be surprised how many times they’re like, Oh, thank you. I was really hoping that we would talk about this. And sometimes it’s the simplest of questions, David, that just shows your humility. And you know, you want to understand and you want to help and if there’s a fit, there’s a fit, and if there’s not, no harm, no foul. But, as I said, if you’re the guy that shows up with the welder on the pipeline bus, they’re scared, man, they’re gonna run!

David

David

Yeah, ‘You have 400 people in your organisation?’ Shut that door.

Tim

Tim

‘Nobody. nobody’s getting off the bus till I got a deal.’

David

David

Yeah, that sounds like a big deal. It’s at 75% 🙂

That’s amazing, Tim, Thank you so much for joining our SalesGRID podcast today. I think any salesperson who’s serious about hitting their numbers this quarter – if they can’t take away some gold from that they aren’t paying attention because I think what you talked about today  just goes to the heart of the sales process.

As you said, customers are only talking to us because they need help. If we can’t ask questions – if we act like a doctor who just dispenses out medication without asking the right questions – we’re never going to get there. So thanks again, Tim. I really appreciate your time. And yeah, I look forward to seeing that magic question list. That’s brilliant. Thanks again. 

Tim

Tim

You’re very welcome. 

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