Questions: The Answer to Sales
Epilogue – Learning a new game
By the sixth hole, Harry knew he was doomed. Mitch was on fire—striping it down the fairways, hitting shots onto greens that knocked the flags down, and putting like a demon.
“Going to win back the money I took from you the last time we played, is that it?” Harry asked.
“That’s the plan,” Mitch said happily, after his approach shot left him with a five-foot birdie putt.
“Ungrateful dog, aren’t you.”
“Harry, I am the most grateful dog you ever knew. But I’m still going to take your money. You can afford it. And now I know why you can afford it, since I understand your secret weapon.”
You think you understand Action Selling already? Harry thought. That’s peculiar, since I’m still learning and improving at it. Guess I can’t take off my mentor hat just yet.
When Mitch had called to invite Harry to play golf again, his excitement was so great that Harry had to hold the phone away from his ear. “Unbelievable!” Mitch kept shouting. “Harry, the difference was unbelievable!”
Mitch had just landed the Bridgeco account. (“Suddenly I’m a rainmaker around here!”) He talked as if Harry couldn’t possibly appreciate the remarkableness of his initial call on Jim Bradley or of his triumphant presentation to Bridgeco’s management team. He kept groping for words to describe the experience.
“It was like no call I ever made!”
“It was like no call I ever made!” Mitch had exclaimed. “The whole tone of it was different.”
“I imagine so, if you were listening to Bradley’s voice instead of your own,” Harry replied dryly.
Mitch laughed. “Yeah, but it went way beyond that. It was amazing how Bradley opened up when I started asking him the Best Questions. No client has ever talked to me that frankly or told me so much about his business. I felt like a management consultant. Heck, I started to think like a consultant. Bradley liked me and trusted me. And I felt like I deserved his trust. It was as if—I don’t know, as if the whole focus was on what I could do to help solve his problems instead of on what products I could sell him.
“No client has ever talked to me that frankly.”
“And you know what?” Mitch continued. “The same feeling carried over even when I made my presentation to the management team—even when I was talking about my products. It wasn’t about ‘Here’s my stuff.’ It was about, ‘Here’s your situation, here’s what we all know your problems are, and here’s how I can help.’ A big part of it was that Bradley and I had already agreed on Bridgeco’s needs, and he had ‘bought me,’ and he obviously had helped ‘sell me’ to the others before I even walked into the meeting. But there was more to it. I felt like I was on their side—not just selling something, but helping them solve real problems and meet real needs. I had so much information about Bridgeco that I felt almost like an insider.”
“You found Bridgeco more interesting than a typical client company, did you?” Harry asked.
“Absolutely! That’s just it, Harry, my whole job was more interesting. I really got caught up in learning about Bridgeco and…” Mitch broke off and laughed. “Sorry, I keep forgetting that you already know what a difference Action Selling makes.”
“My job is more interesting.”
That was when Mitch ended the phone conversation by inviting Harry to play another round of golf. And he’s already four up. I’m afraid to press him; I’d just lose more money, Harry thought as they walked to the seventh tee. I’m happy for you, Mitch. But you’re not finished learning. Not by a long shot.
“Remember what I said about Act 9 of Action Selling—Replay the Call?” he asked. “Do you want to walk through it with me?”
“Sure,” Mitch said.
“All right, what was your Commitment Objective going into the call on Jim Bradley? And did you have to change it?”
Mitch shook his head. “Thanks to you, I went in with the right Commitment Objective. Instead of trying to ‘sell’ him, I used the time to sell myself by asking questions. My Commitment Objective was for him to agree to let me come back and make a presentation to everyone involved in the buying decision—after I gathered enough ammunition to make a good presentation, I mean. I confirmed that objective during the call, and I didn’t change it.”
“Instead of trying to ‘sell’ him, I used the time to sell myself by asking questions.”
“Good,” Harry said. And my Commitment Objective for this conversation, Mitch, is to get you to agree that you aren’t finished learning about Action Selling. You’re not certified yet. “So in the initial call, you wanted to concentrate on Acts 2, 3 and 4—People Skills, Ask the Best Questions, and Agree on Needs. I take it things went well, but what problems did you run into?”
“No problems at all,” Mitch said. “Things went amazingly well. I’ve never felt so much in control of a call—which is ironic, because Bradley did 90 percent of the talking. You know, Harry, I actually have a lot of insight into needs and issues like Bridgeco’s—I see enough of them. But when I try to demonstrate what I know by talking, clients don’t want to hear it. I was able to show Bradley that I was knowledgeable just by the questions I asked and the way I phrased them. Wow, did that make a difference!
“I’ve never felt so much in control of a call—Bradley did 90 percent of the talking.”
“Oh, and you’ll like this, Harry: A couple of times he asked me questions that were like big, fat invitations for me to start a product spiel. But I remembered what you said about keeping the customer’s buying decisions in the right order and not jumping ahead to Act 6. So I kept on asking questions to gather information. At one point, I almost had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him all about our order-tracking system. You see, he asked me a question that felt kind of odd, as if it were strangely significant. And instead of answering right away…”
“You answered his question with a question of your own?” Harry interrupted.
“Yes. How’d you know?”
“You said I’d like this part. Answering a question with a question is exactly what Action Selling recommends when a customer raises an issue that you suspect might be a landmine. Instead of stepping on the mine with a thoughtless answer, you need to probe for understanding of the real issue behind the customer’s question. So you should ask a clarifying question of your own. Which is what you did—and I know that because if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be this happy. Good for you, Mitch.”
Mitch grinned broadly, then winked at Harry as he dropped a 20- foot putt. “Yeah, I think I executed it really well,” he said. “And since I asked the Best Questions—the Very Best Questions,” he added, twirling his putter in exaggerated self-satisfaction, “I also uncovered an objection about technical support that would have come back at me for sure in my presentation if I weren’t prepared for it. Since I’m now an Action Selling ace, of course, I anticipated it and knocked it right in the hole.” He took a mock swing with the
putter to illustrate.
I know you’re half-kidding, Harry thought, but I hope you realize how much you have yet to learn. Let’s find out. “Mitch, I’m glad that the little I told you about Action Selling helped you land the Bridgeco account. Now, what’s your plan to build on that success?”
I hope you realize how much you have yet to learn.
Surprised that Harry would even ask, Mitch turned to answer, then hesitated. So that guy at your club didn’t literally screw himself into the ground, eh, Harry? You’re not the only one who can yank somebody’s chain. “Don’t worry about me, Buddy,” he said, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. “Now that I know how to make a real, professional sales call and a real product presentation, I’ll be just fine.”
“Oh?” Harry said, taken aback. “You think you’ll be just fine with what you know now?”
“Sure. Look what I just did at Bridgeco. What else could I need?”
“Has it been your experience that old habits are that easy to break?” Harry asked, getting exasperated. “You do something differently one time, and, bang, your behavior changes for good?”
“Yep,” Mitch said.
Harry goggled at him. “That was a close-ended question,” Mitch added.
Just as it began to dawn on Harry that he was being had, Mitch lost control and doubled over laughing. For half a minute he howled, unable to speak.
“You should have seen the look on your face, Harry,” he gasped, when he was able to talk again. “Gee, do you think I should get trained and certified in Action Selling? Did you figure it might be tough to get me to realize it and agree to it? Because I’m, like, ‘Duh!’” He started laughing again.
Harry turned away, smiling, and hit a 7-iron into the 10th green. “So,” he said, “I take it you’re already highly motivated to learn more about Action Selling?”
“After you told me that you’re still working on improving your skills? Harry, do you really think I’d have let you get off this course today without telling me how to get trained and certified? I’d have made you tell me! I did great at Bridgeco, working with what you gave me. It was the best sales experience I ever had. But I know I got lucky, too. Every client won’t be as receptive as Jim Bradley was, and I’ll bet Action Selling has plenty more to tell me about how to get past the rough spots.”
“Yes, it does,” Harry said. “And don’t forget that there are nine Acts in the system. You and I concentrated on Asking the Best Questions in Acts 2 and 3—and you have a lot more to learn about that, never mind the other seven Acts. But, Mitch, you need to know that Action Selling certification isn’t just a piece of paper somebody hands you because you go to a seminar. It takes time and work.”
“Action Selling certification isn’t just a piece of paper.”
Mitch laughed again. “My whole career takes time and work. These past few years, I’ve learned what it’s like to work hard without getting anywhere. Now that I know the difference Action Selling can make, even for a novice like me, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t want to become a master. No, Harry, the question isn’t whether I’ll agree to do whatever it takes to get certified. The question is, how can I thank you for saving my career?”
When Mitch finished speaking he wasn’t smiling anymore. He stepped directly in front of Harry and looked him in the eyes, as if to say: I’m serious. How can I thank you?
Harry regarded him thoughtfully. Then he stepped around Mitch, as if considering the question, and plum-bobbed a difficult putt that would break sharply to the right. Finally he addressed the ball. “That’s easy,” he said. “You can pay me my five bucks. Because that guy did not screw himself into the ground.”
Harry sank his putt.
ABOUT DUANE SPARKS
Duane Sparks is founder and chairman of The Sales Board, the authoritative source of practical and leading-edge information about the art and science of selling. He has created Action Selling sales training products and learning systems that transform sales organizations. Duane is author of these best-selling books: Action Selling, Selling Your Price, Questions (the Answer to Sales), Masters of Loyalty (How to turn your sales force into a loyalty force), and Sales Strategy from the Inside Out (How complex selling really works).
Discover how the best sales training process can make spectacular improvements in sales skills. Action Selling: How to Sell Like a Professional (Even If You Think You are One).