Is your sales team seeing certain sales opportunities that keep showing up in the sales forecast month after month, but without ever moving closer to closing a deal? These sales leads that linger for months are drifting along in “sales purgatory,” neither alive nor dead. To get past the frustration of sales purgatory and start closing more deals, you need to get your sales team to start asking what I call, “Sales Smoke Out Questions” to generate some action and infuse some urgency into the sales process.
By asking sales smoke out questions, you can get a clearer idea of where you stand in the prospect’s mind, identify the timetable for the prospect to make a buying decision, find out how your organization stands up to the competition, and prompt your prospects to level with you about whether (or when) they’re going to move forward in the sales process.
Here are the top 5 “sales smoke out” questions to help move your sales process forward:
1. Are you considering other vendors? You don’t have to pretend that you’re the only company contacting the prospect. Go ahead and ask if they are talking to your competitors. If so, fine – that means you can try to dig deeper and uncover some business intelligence by asking follow-up questions like, “What do you think about the other competitors and their offerings?” If the prospect says that they are not considering other vendors, this could be a sign that they are not really serious about buying. (Or, if you’re really lucky, it means that you’re the first company to get to them.)
2. Which of the other vendors you are talking to would you rank the highest? Don’t wait too long to find out where you stand. If one of your competitors has already convinced the prospect on the merits of their solution, it helps to know that before you waste a lot of time. If you’re a close second, it helps to know so you can strategize about how to get to #1. Or even if the prospect doesn’t have a clearly ordered list, asking these follow-up questions gives you a chance to gain business intelligence and find out what concerns you need to alleviate to build more credibility with the prospect. It might be that the prospect has been misinformed or needs to be further educated about what your solution can do. Your competitors might be making promises that they can’t keep. The best way to find out where you stand is to ask – and then respond accordingly.
3. On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being highly likely), how likely are you to select our solution? Many salespeople are reluctant to pin down a prospect with such a specific question as this, but the prospect’s answer gives you all the information you need as to how serious they are about making a deal.
4. What kind of timeline are you on to make a decision, and when will you be implementing? This question helps clarify the prospect’s timetable, and it also gives your sales team an opportunity to offer helpful information to build credibility with the prospect. For example, if the prospect says that they want to purchase in April and then implement in July, your sales team needs to think about whether this is a realistic implementation timeframe for your solution. This is a chance to help guide the prospect and manage expectations. Don’t make promises you can’t keep – instead, show the prospect that you are a conscientious professional who has the prospect’s best interests at heart. It may be that one of your competitors is over-promising about the speed of implementation, which can ultimately be more costly and harmful to the prospect’s business.
5. Do you think we are going to be able to ink our deal this month? One of the unpleasant side effects of “sales purgatory” is that it skews your organization’s sales forecasting, as deals stay clogged up in the pipeline for month after month. Part of this process of asking sales smoke out questions involves increasing your sales team’s forecasting accuracy. If your sales team feels uncomfortable putting prospects on the spot with this question, modify the question slightly by saying, “Our management team is trying to improve our forecasting and they want to know whether we can expect to move forward with you on this business.”
Sales purgatory doesn’t have to last forever. By asking pointed “sales smoke out” questions (while being prepared to address any confusion or misconceptions along the way), your sales team can take “half-dead” sales leads and breathe new life into them.