You don’t need all the right answers in order to create a winning sales strategy. You need the right questions. When you ask them, a “complex” sale gets much less complex.

Here is a true story, highlighted in the introduction of our sales book, “Sales Strategy From the Inside Out:”

On August 1, 2007, the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed and fell into the Mississippi River. When the initial shock of the tragedy wore off, the Minnesota Department of Transportation hurried to replace the bridge. The contract to build a new one went out to bid.

The business–$250 million worth—was won by a Colorado outfit, the only bidder that had never built a bridge in Minnesota. Its proposal carried the highest price tag and one of the slowest delivery times.

How did that happen? The committee that made the decision explained that price and speed were not the only criteria it considered. Eight other factors were on the committee’s wish list. The competing bidders cried foul. “You never told us that!” they roared.

“You never asked,” the committee replied. “The winning bidder did.”

“You never asked. The winner did.”

In other words, the outsiders clinched a huge deal for one simple reason: They asked the best questions. The competition assumed they knew what mattered to the buyers, and pitched products accordingly. The Colorado people assumed nothing—except that their job was to find out what mattered and why. The insiders saw the deal as a straight bidding affair. The outsiders recognized the situation for what it was: a complex selling environment.

I love that story because it demonstrates what I believe is a great truth about selling. Real professionals don’t sell with great pitches. They sell by asking great questions.

The more complex the sales environment—with multiple decision makers and multiple buying criteria—the more important this principle becomes. Why? Because great questions will always tell you what your next step should be: which decision makers you need to see, how to get to those people, what matters to them, and how to gain their commitment.

Another way to say that: Great questions produce great sales strategies.

Action Selling ® In Action

Shortly after attending an Action Selling ® seminar, a sales executive for industrial and electrical distributor Hagemeyer North America confirmed for himself the power of asking, as opposed to pitching.

Having arranged a presentation meeting with a committee of decision makers at a major company that was “one of our largest prospects,” this salesperson tried something different. “I’ve made hundreds of ‘capabilities pitches’ with our trusty PowerPoint presentation,” he says. “For the first time in my career, instead of making the pitch, I had a strategy for asking questions that would get each of the decision-makers involved in discussing the issues they were facing.

“As they answered my questions, it became more and more apparent that they had major problems. The atmosphere was intense—nothing like what I normally experience. Following a brief presentation of my solution, I was asked to proceed as soon as possible with my recommendations. It’s amazing how Action Selling ® works!”