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6 Probing for needs.

People find themselves in selling situations every day, not just at work, but in many other environments. For example, as a child, you may have tried to "sell" your parents on the value of a new toy or as a teenager you may have attempted to "sell" your parents on a later curfew. More recently, you may have tried to "sell" a friend or significant other on seeing a particular movie or vacation destination. You may have sought to convince a prospective employer that you are the best job candidate, or you may have tried to negotiate a raise with your current employer. Occasionally, however, you may have been disappointed that your spouse, friend, or boss did not accept your idea. After these encounters, have you ever attempted to determine why your idea was rejected by another individual or why your offer of service was not accepted?

Approaches to Selling

The matter of selling or convincing another person to accept one's ideas, services or plans is an integral part of most jobs. There are many ways in which one individual can convince another. Best known, of course, is the "hard sell" approach, which often comes through as commanding or "giving directions." However, many people in business today are experimenting with approaches other than the "hard sell," such as the consultative selling approach introduced in the first chapter of this book. The consultive selling approach is based on the quality of the salesperson's idea, expertise or competence, and/or personal relationships. The need to sell and convince through the power of an idea or competence is becoming more crucial as more professionals enter the business world, and people are less impressed by a domineering, fast-talking personality.

Short-and long-term benefits are derived by applying this more professional, consultative approach. For the short term, the seller and buyer are better able to reach a mutual agreement on implementing the idea, service, or plan. As each mutually agreed-upon idea is implemented and obtains the desired result, the buyer and seller begin to develop a personal relationship. The degree to which a quality personal relationship evolves will be contingent upon the salesperson's ability to influence the buyer through the power of the salesperson's offering. Inherent in a quality personal relationship is the long-term benefit for both buyer and seller--the buyer recognizes that the salesperson is indeed interested in the buyer's business, and the salesperson has demonstrated the ability to satisfy the buyer's needs. That is, the salesperson must demonstrate the ability to be a problem solver. As a result of building a quality personal relationship, the long-term benefit for the salesperson lies in the increased likelihood of the buyer's acceptance of future proposals. By building a quality personal relationship, the salesperson will have established a bond with the buyer that is necessary to consummate the sales transaction.

As a salesperson, you should seek to identify the needs of the other person, including both organizational and personal needs. Too often, ideas are presented from the frame of reference of the "seller," rather than from the needs of the individual or group concerned. A prospective buyer wants to be treated as unique, and to be recognized for particular differences. Probing for the prospective buyer's needs followed by listening, restating, or summarizing the prospect's position are ways to become more influential. This kind of "persuasive strategy" is in direct opposition to the "hard sell" approach, which tends to make people defensive, and to lead them away from acceptance.

Gaining the Prospect's Involvement and Participation

Through the process of listening and probing, you can encourage the prospect's participation and/or involvement in planning and identifying needs. The prospect's involvement in the sales process helps to establish an atmosphere of openness to exchange information and feelings. In turn, this leads to a relationship of trust and confidence, making suggestions, and following through on recommendations. Consequently, it is more likely that the prospect will become committed to whatever agreements are reached.

To gain an understanding of the prospect's needs and to get the prospect emotionally involved in the sales process, you must ask questions or "probe." When asking questions, keep in mind these four simple rules:

1. Don't ask questions that might lead to situations from which you cannot escape.

2. Ask only one question at a time.

3. Allow prospects time to answer each question.

4. Listen--concentrate on what the buyer is saying.

Probing for Needs

A prospect's decision-making process can be affected by his or her organization's needs or by personal needs. Although buyers buy benefits, they tend to be more apt to buy benefits that will satisfy specific organizational needs. In any sales situation, three kinds of needs most likely will emerge:
Financial     Refers to maintaining or improving monetary
              results; controlling costs.

Image         Refers to maintaining or improving prestige or

Performance   Refers to maintaining or improving productivity.

Classifying and identifying needs can be helpful in the following ways:

1. to understand the rationale behind a buyer's decision and what motivates the buyer to buy

2. to establish a direction for planning and conducting the sales call

3. to identify and apply benefits that satisfy specific organizational or personal needs

There are really just two basic sources of information regarding the prospect's needs. First, the buyer, in a conversation with you, will give information allowing you to conclude what organizational or personal needs are important to him or her. Second, people associated with the account--other salespeople, people writing in trade publications about the account, financial journals, or reports about the account--all give information that may relate to the prospect's organizational needs.

Needs are frequently interrelated and can influence each other. Consider Company C that wants to improve its bottom-line profit, and still wants to maintain the company's high quality image. The result of satisfying one need might also create or intensify another. Therefore, it is important not only to appeal to the prospect's specific needs, but to be cognizant of the proposal's implications on the other needs. Ultimately, your ability to recognize and understand a prospect's needs, and then to satisfy them with the appropriate benefits are key factors in the prospective buyer's decision to buy.

Types of Probing Questions

Probing questions can be placed into four categories: closed, open-ended, directive, and reflective. These questions can be used alone or in combination with one another.

Closed questions can be answered with only a few words, such as yes or no. These types of questions are not very effective in developing customer needs because the answers provide little information. For this reason, you should use closed questions sparingly. In their place, learn to employ open-ended questions.

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. These questions invite a true expression of opinion and feeling regardless of whether they are favorable or unfavorable to your perspective. This type of question frequently asks who, what, where, when, why, and how. The purpose of open-ended questions is to elicit information from the prospect. You should use open-ended questions frequently.

For example:

What do you think of ... ?

Where could you use ... ?

How do you feel about ... ?

What is most important to you regarding ... ?

Directive questions are those that request expansion or further explanation of one particular point. Generally speaking, you should use these questions to get the buyer to concentrate on the parts of your proposal with which he or she feels more comfortable or agreeable. The more you get the prospect to explore the areas of agreement, the less important the areas of disagreement will seem. Further, directive questions help you to reestablish positive communication after a negative response from the prospect. Use directive questions frequently.

Reflective questions are used to clarify the prospect's meaning and to determine needs. The reflective question can be used to buy you some "thinking" time when the prospect has presented a surprise objection. Reflection means the repetition or rephrasing in your own words, of what the other person is trying to say or seems to feel. Therefore, the first essential to reflection is careful listening and the second is selectivity. To properly reflect the prospect's feelings, you must really listen to the prospect and not be thinking about your own plan or what you are going to say next. Then, you have to select the most important idea or feeling from what was said and put it into your own words. Use reflective questions sparingly.

Open-ended, directive, and reflective questions may be used to not only elicit information from prospective buyers, but to respond to objections. That is, sometimes using questions to probe further will provide the key to overcoming a prospect's objection. For example:

Buyer: "Your price is too high."

Salesperson: "Why do you feel the price is too high?"


Buyer: "Does your resort allow children?"

Salesperson: "Why is that important to you?"

Open-Ended Questions Exercise

Instructions: Below you are provided with several buying situations. Respond with an open-ended question in the space provided. Take five minutes to complete the exercise.

1. Buyer: "I don't like your proposal."

You could say: --

2. Buyer: "Gosh, I think your ideas are terrific, but to tell you the truth, the boss just can't see doing something new like this. I don't think he would buy it."

You could say: --

3. Buyer: "I don't know. I'll have to think it over."

You could say: --

4. Buyer: "I'll have to talk to someone else about it."

You could say: --

Directive Questions Exercise

Instructions: Below you are provided with several buyer reactions. Respond with a directive question in the space provided. Take five minutes to complete the exercise.

1. Buyer: "Gosh, I think your ideas are terrific, but to tell you the truth, the boss just can't see doing something new like this. I don't think he would buy it."

You could say: --

2. Buyer: "I like your remodeled rooms, but they cost too much."

You could say: --

3. Buyer: "That's a good room rate, but your banquet service prices are too high."

You could say: --

4. Buyer: "A new corporate program, eh? It's about time you guys came up with something new. See me in three months and we can talk it over then."

You could say: --

Reflective Exercise

Instructions: Below you are provided with several buyer reactions. Respond with a reflective question in the space provided. Take five minutes to complete the exercise.

1. Buyer: "There's certainly a lot to be said for your plan, but I'd like to think it over and get back to you."

You could say: --

2. Buyer: "Anyone can find reasons for changing, however before we start using your hotel for all our business travel, you have to present me with significant reasons for doing so."

You could say: --

3. Buyer: "You know, I've been in the business a long time, and I've heard the same old story from you guys for many years."

You could say: --

4. Buyer: "Your proposal is great for the big company, but my company needs are entirely different."

You could say: --

Utilizing Probing Role-Playing Exercise

Seller's Role

Your task is to prepare for a three-minute sales presentation to a buyer for a hospitality product. You should take eight to ten minutes to prepare the presentation and close the sale. The objective of this exercise is for you to practice the questioning techniques discussed as a means to influence a buyer to buy, and to close the sale.

You will be rated by an observer according to the following scale:

1. Four points for each open-ended or directive question.

2. Five points for each reflection statement.

3. Five bonus points if you close the sale.

Buyer's Role

Your role is to be the recipient of a sales presentation. The objective of the exercise is to give the salesperson the opportunity to practice the questioning techniques learned in the chapter. Encourage the salesperson to ask open-ended questions by refusing to elaborate when asked a closed-ended question. That is, answer a closed-ended question with only "yes," "no" or the specific data requested. An observer will score the performance of the salesperson.

Your task is to buy, if the salesperson convinces you to do so. As evidence of your conviction, you will "pay" the salesperson for the product. Pay can be nominal, such as a candy bar.

Observer's Role

Your role is to observe a sales presentation for a hospitality product to be delivered by one of your fellow participants in the role playing to another participant who will be playing the role of a buyer.

Your task is to identify how many times the salesperson uses each of the questioning techniques studied. You will keep score (see the score sheet in Figure 6-1) according to the following scale:

1. Four points for each open-ended or directive question.

2. Five points for each reflection statement.

3. Five bonus points if the salesperson closes the sale.


Key Concepts

Probing helps the salesperson identify the needs of the prospect, so that the salesperson can serve as a problem solver. Chapter 6 has discussed the concept of probing and its importance in the sales process. The following are the key points of this chapter:

* Continuous probing throughout the sales process maintains the prospect's involvement and ensures that the prospect is in agreement with the salesperson's proposal.

* Probing allows the salesperson to understand the rationale and motivation behind a prospect's decision, establishes a direction for the sales call, and identifies benefits that satisfy specific needs.

* Probing questions are categorized as closed, open-ended, directive, and reflective. Closed questions should be used sparingly; open-ended questions should be used frequently. Directive questions emphasize a positive point made by the prospect, while reflective questions rephrase or restate the prospect's comments. The latter two types of questions should be used only when warranted.
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Title Annotation:marketing strategy
Publication:Hospitality Sales: Selling Smarter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:5 Openings.
Next Article:7 The Presentation.

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