The IT Marketing Crash Course

Written by Raj Khera
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Chapter 7: Sales Questions

"Successful people ask better questions and, as a result, they get better answers." — Tony Robbins

Sales Questions for Your Hidden Sales Team

You don't want to see your valuable client choosing another company for telecommunications services because they thought you only provided Hosted Exchange and nothing else. If you go to them after they've selected another vendor, you'll hear unfortunate comments like "Oh, I didn't know you guys did that. Sorry, we've already signed a 2-year contract with this other company."

Not only would that be a shock to your gut — and wallet, you've now let another cat in the house. That's bad news that could have been avoided. You have competition because that telecom company probably also offers managed services and is itching to get a piece of your action.

Existing clients are the lowest bar for getting more business. Without a sales person constantly probing for needs, these hidden sales opportunities are often lost.

Don't worry. There is a way to avoid this situation. You already have a hidden inside sales team.

Your Lowest Hanging Fruit

Most technical people don't like to sell. Some go as far as seeing sales and marketing as an activity on the dark side, something they would never see themselves doing. Yet sales are critical to business success.

The easiest way to get more sales is to offer additional options to existing customers. These are people who already put their faith in you for many of their technology needs. They don't see your sales reps anymore because they have already been sold.

Small technology service firms may not have individual account reps to be the liaison between your clients and your technical staff. That means the people closest to your existing customers are your technical team members — the engineers, technicians, and customer support reps who interact with your clients daily. They are the problem-solvers that your clients have grown to rely on and trust.

Trust enables a lot of things to happen. When clients trust your technology recommendations and solutions, you become part of their inner circle of advisers. Your team's suggestions mean a lot because without them, your client would have to find another reliable source for technology, or suffer the consequences of bad technical judgment calls. You are as important as their lawyer or accountant because they know you have their best interest in mind.

Sales Questions That Uncover Untapped Opportunities

If you can get your technical team to ask certain sales questions to clients on a regular basis, you can uncover opportunities waiting to be tapped. The key is to engage your clients in an open-ended dialog about their business, not just their technology issues.

While you may be there just to support technical work, they have a broader view. They are dealing with many other problems that need solving. Try to see the world through your client's eyes. Once you have established trust, you can inquire about their business plans and goals, the obstacles they are trying to overcome, and their wish list for an ideal world.

Your technical team may not have a business background, but they can be trained to ask leading sales questions that start a conversation about a client's high-level needs. When they share this newly found data with your team at staff meetings, you may spot trends across multiple clients and opportunities for adding a new product line or service. You will also gain insight into ways to position your company to make these new sales.

Here are questions that your technical team can ask to start a conversation that can lead to more sales. By asking these questions, you also demonstrate that you care for your client's business, which leads to a stronger bond of trust.

Some of the sales questions you could ask might focus on uncovering problems or issues the prospect wants to fix. Examples of these types of questions include:

  • What kinds of things go wrong in your daily operations? Are any of these things that you would like to change?
  • Assuming that you weren't limited by technology or financial resources, what would you change right now in your business processes?
  • What could you or would you do if you had more time in the work day?
  • If you could automate one thing about your job, what would it be?

Another area to question prospects and clients about is their projected growth, which can help you uncover opportunities to assist them in scaling to meet this growth. Here are some examples:

  • What kind of growth are you expecting in the next 12 months?
  • How many new employees do you expect to add next year?
  • Are you looking to add new products or services to your business? Tell me about it.
  • Have you thought about what kind of infrastructure changes you might need to support this growth?

Suppose you ask a client one of these questions and he tells you his company is looking to add 25 new employees in the coming year.

Your response to his statement should be follow-up sales questions:

Have you thought about the infrastructure details like how you will handle the additional employees' email, data, and remote access?

Now, you've started a dialog that can uncover opportunities to help solve these new issues your client is facing.

I was talking to a client who provides unified communications services across devices like laptops, tablets, and phones. Some of his clients may not even know technology like this exists, and they would be happy to know they could access all of these services through one interface. In this case, my client could serve as an educator to let his own clients know what technical capabilities are available to make their lives easier.

You should always tailor your questions based both on your industry and the industry of your clients. For example, if you sell disaster recovery solutions, there are plenty of ways to get prospects and clients thinking about the potential gaps in their continuity plan. For example, you could ask:

  • If we had a storm that knocked out power at the office for several days like we did earlier this year, what kind of remote work plan do you have in place?
  • If a hurricane like Katrina or Sandy happened here, how would you contact your staff? Your customers? What would happen to your files? Your business?
  • Would you like some suggestions on how to devise a remote work plan, including the things you'll need to have in place to make it happen?

In the disaster recovery industry, you may be able to gather some clues before planning your pitch. For example, does your prospect's office look like it's in need of disaster recovery itself?

If your prospect's office is disheveled, with papers everywhere and organization nowhere to be found, you may not have a good chance of closing the deal. After all, if the prospect doesn't place a high priority on organization in general, he may not be organized about disaster planning either.

On the other hand, if the prospect has a tidy office, with everything in its place, then it's a good bet that he likes to know where all of his files are. Since he values organization, you have a better chance of selling disaster recovery and data backup services to him.

Sometimes people just do things a certain way because that is the way it's always been done. They may not think that a technology solution could make their processes more streamlined, or they may not even know what is available to them.

In this case, you can probe for areas where your technology services could improve their business and educate them on the tech solutions available on the market today. You might ask:

  • How do you handle network security for your teleworkers?
  • What would happen to your data, network access and website if a staff member lost a company laptop at an airport?

After asking these questions, you may have a story to share about a client whose data was hacked or lost. This will get them thinking about how such a security breach could affect their business, too.

If you are a website services provider, you may want to ask:

  • What terms do your clients say they type into Google to find products or services like yours?
  • If you were a prospect for your own services and did a search on Google, what words in the search results page would prompt you to click?
  • If a customer's first interaction with you was your website, what would you hope they would do? What do you really think they would do?

These questions are useful because they force the prospect to look at his website from his customers' point of view. This honest assessment will open him up to your suggestions for improvement, such as adding resources to help website owners serve their customers better.

This conversation could then segue into a dialog about mobile support. You could ask:

What are some of the recent mobile support options you have explored?

If you happen to sell and install hardware, you can also position your products and services as ways to make your prospects' lives easier. Some questions to ask include:

  • How old are your oldest servers? Printers?
  • Did you know that you can integrate your telecommunications and office network together so you get an email that reads a voicemail message to you?
  • Do you ever find yourself wanting to do more work on your iPad but run into limitations and have to get your laptop?

These types of questions can also guide you in your pitch because they allow you to gauge where the prospect is in the buying cycle. For example, if they tend to hold on to computers for four to five years, then you might not have much of a chance to sell new technology often. If, however, they replace computers every two to three years, you can make a calendar note to get in touch with that prospect about six months or a year ahead of their next scheduled upgrade.

Speaking of upgrades, some prospects are hesitant to upgrade their software because they don't understand the value new features could provide, or because they are simply afraid of the unknown.

In this situation, I find that an effective way to frame the dialog is to ask this question:

Have you explored the business case for upgrading to the latest version of (whatever software you sell)?

When you pose this question, you aren't selling; you are getting the prospect to ponder what it would mean to upgrade and what benefits an upgrade could provide.

Other questions to ask to gently get prospects thinking about upgrades include:

  • What software that you currently use causes you the most headaches?
  • How long does your staff take to <name whatever you can help with: do invoicing, organize resumes, coordinate logistics, etc.>?
  • I know you've got SharePoint installed. What other ways does your staff collaborate?

After you have a lot of background on their problem, suggest your ideas as a question, like this:

If you had a way to make sure you never lost your data and knew that it was secure no matter what mother nature did, would that something worth pursuing?

Get acknowledgement before you run back to the office and write a proposal. You need to know if you've hit upon a real concern or something that would be nice to have. The "nice to have" projects don't get funded.

As you ask these questions, resist the urge to provide a solution after their first response. Continue to ask more questions. Probe to find out what this means to your client in terms of productivity, inefficiencies and other business metrics. Your clients will keep divulging more information with each question you pose. Why? Because everyone has problems they need solved and very few people ask them about it.

Questions are more powerful than answers. The more you ask, the more you learn.

Checklist: Your Next Steps

  • Train your technical team to sell to your existing clients by offering additional options. What service add-ons can your technicians and customer support reps offer the clients they are in contact with already?
  • Brainstorm for a few questions your tech team can ask clients on a regular basis to uncover opportunities waiting to be tapped.
  • Refine your questions so they are specific to your clients' needs and the services you offer, and be sure your team is ready to work the questions into their regular correspondence with clients.