The Most Important Step of the Sales Process… Bar None

The Probe step is probably the single most important step in the selling process and the one that’s done the poorest by many salespeople.

If the point of selling is to provide a solution to your prospect’s problems or to help him make an informed buying decision, how can you accomplish that if you don’t first make an attempt to understand his problem or uncover his needs and wants? That’s the primary purpose of the Probe step.

Too many salespeople are so anxious to tell the prospect all about what it is they are selling that they spend very little time, if any, probing to ascertain if the prospect has any real interest in what the salesperson is selling. They need to put their ears to work before exercising their mouths.

OK, you may be nodding, I’m with you so far. But how do I get my team to lead better sales calls by asking better questions, and can Salesforce help? The surprising answer (although not that surprising for dedicated readers of this blog) below.

Why is the Probe Step So Important? 

Well, beyond the obvious, which is getting more information about why your prospect might ever consider buying from you, the Probe Step actually accomplishes a number of other, very desirable, consequences for the salesperson. Did you know that the Probe Step can help you establish better rapport with your prospect, help you establish more credibility and even gain and build trust. Seriously, the reason we want our salespeople to master the art of great question asking is that it leads to so many positive outcomes, namely;

  • To qualify your prospect, (turn Leads into Qualified Leads)
  • To start the rapport-building process
  • To establish credibility
  • To build and maintain trust

How can you use the Probe step to establish credibility and trust? After all, all you’re doing is asking questions. In fact, because all you’re doing is asking questions and not selling is the key to building trust with your prospect. You establish yourself as less a salesperson and more a resource person.
The quality of your questions establishes your credibility. The better and more meaningful your questions are, the higher your credibility. Of course, the reverse is also true. Ask dumb or irrelevant questions and your credibility goes down.

WHY Qualify?
If a prospect doesn’t have a need for your solution, or can’t afford it, or doesn’t have the authority to buy it, then you don’t have a pros­pect.

WHEN to Qualify?
Either before your approach or very early in the sale.

HOW to Qualify?
Ask questions! Find out what your prospect wants and why he wants it.

In order to have something to listen to, you have to get the prospect talking and you do that by asking questions. The right questions will help you assess your prospect’s needs, wants, challenges, budget, decision making authority, decision timing, competitive preferences, organizational structure and personal agenda/s. Come on now, who wouldn’t want to know all that? And it’s right there for the taking!
The question is: What questions should you ask?

In order to answer that question, you must first know the answer to these two questions:

  1. What need or want does my solution fulfill?
  2. Why should a prospect buy my solution?

Once you have the answers to these two questions, you’ll know what questions to ask to get the answers you want to hear. You see, it’s not good enough to just ask questions. You have to know what answers you’re looking for in order to have the right questions.

So, how can Salesforce support better probing? Well, there are a number of ways you can configure Salesforce to help ensure that your sales team is successfully executing the Probe Step more effectively. Here are three of them.

Create Custom Fields for the Lead Record to Include your Key Questions 

The first thing to do is to ensure that you have a series of standard questions that you want asked of every prospect. Think about some of your best customers, and then analyze them to determine what they have in common. Then, ask yourselves, are these the types of things we can learn early on in the sales process, back when they are still prospects. There’s probably three, four, or five core elements that determine whether a prospect is right for your business and is someone that your product or solution is ideally designed to help.

Once you’ve determined what these key areas of information are, you want to ensure that you can capture them on a Lead record. They’ll likely take the form of single select or multi-select pick lists, but don’t discount text fields either. We like to create one text field to capture a key quote that the prospect mentions, that encapsulates how they see their current state or their dilemma. When these fields are in place, it should start to have the effect on your sales users that these are the key bits of information that they should be collecting even at the very beginning of the sales process.

Note – the temptation might be to make these fields required, in a way to ‘enforce’ compliance with the Probe step. But we’d strongly caution against that. Listen, just because you want your sales team to ask questions of your prospects, doesn’t mean that your prospects are necessarily going to provide answers. We’d make as few of the fields on the Lead record required, as it’s tough to say just how much information you’re going to be able to get at this point.

Design a Lead Conversion Process and Lead Conversion Mapping 

Once you’ve established the right questions to ask of an initial prospect, it’s important to establish what constitutes a qualified Lead and a full-blown Opportunity. At some point, a Lead that indicates a willingness to work with the salesperson, and meets the preliminary conditions of the type of business that your solutions will help, then it’s time to convert that Lead into an Account, Contact and Opportunity.

This is where Lead Conversion Mapping comes into play. You want to be able to take the data that you capture when you’re asking questions to your prospect (Lead) and then map it to the appropriate records upon conversion. Most of your custom Lead fields are going to map either to the Account record or the Opportunity record. Here’s the way to tell where it should go. If it’s information about the company itself, then it should go on the Account record. And if its information related to this specific sale, then it should go on the Opportunity record.

Now, both the Account and the Opportunity record should also contain a number of custom fields that capture the type of information that helps you to know more about your customers. When you think about what you need to learn about your prospects and customers, you can start to create custom fields for both of these objects, and to display them on the record pages in a logical format, perhaps even creating custom sections to segment your data. Again, beware the temptation to make these fields required. The emphasis should be on training your salespeople to ask the right questions to collect this information as they are able, and perhaps not always in one meeting. Not every prospect, or even customer, is willing to divulge everything, so despite the most inquisitive intentions of your salespeople, there are some things they just may not be able to uncover.

Leverage Lighting Sales Path 

One of the best tools in Salesforce Lightning – and for some odd reason, one of the least utilized tools, as far as I can tell from working with clients, is the Salesforce Sales Path. The Sales Path is like a guided tour through the entire Opportunity Process.

The Sales Path has two components, namely, 1) Key Fields and 2) Guidance for Success.
The Key Fields section allows you to define which are the most important fields to complete at every Opportunity Stage. So, for instance, if you are in one of the first stages of the Opportunity, you would typically want your salesperson to be gathering some basic account and sales information from the prospect, such as possible size of this opportunity, approximate time frame for them to buy, their expressed needs or problems with the current state, and possibly the decision makers on the prospect’s side. If you recognize these areas of questioning, that’s because they’re probably familiar to you already. You’d remember them from the famous acronym, BANT, which stands for Budget, Authority, Needs and Timing, which is a timeless sales model for good discovery questions.

Later on in the sales process as your sales person starts to develop a greater rapport with the prospect and is able to ask even more questions, you may want to list other key fields under later stages. The key fields on these stages may require the salesperson to probe more around the prior purchase history of the prospect, other vendors they’ve used, and dive deeper into the specific nature of the consequences of staying with the status quo.
The second half of the Sales Path is the Guidance for Success. This area allows the Administrator to place any variety of Sales tips, techniques, excerpts from the company’s sales playbook, or even the questions that you want the sales team to be using at each step. It’s almost like having a sales coach right there with the salespeople at every step of the sales process.

There’s no question that the Sales Path is one of the best ways to use Salesforce to encourage your salespeople to unleash the power of the Probe step during their sales calls.

P3 Performance is a professional training firm with instructors in worldwide that helps sales leaders leverage Salesforce to improve their sales team’s performance, in front of the computer…and in front of the client.

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