Asking your prospective client questions is an extremely important part of every sales negotiation. That’s why instructors for sales negotiation training courses focus on teaching sales professionals the art of identifying and asking the right questions.
Experienced sales-negotiation trainers have powerful advice when it comes to identifying the questions that will help you to hit your targets and maintain key relationships.
Top 5 Sales Negotiation Questions for Your Business Prospect
1. Do you have an incumbent supplier?
Many sales negotiators choose not to pursue a deal with a prospective client once they discover that the prospect is happy with an incumbent supplier’s performance. They think, “We may only be able to improve on the incumbent’s deal by offering lower pricing. Yet, we could still end up losing the deal on the strength of that supplier’s existing relationship with the prospect. If our management isn’t willing to pay us generously just for drafting proposals and convening meetings, why should we even invest our precious time pursuing business with this buyer?”
If your prospective client already has an incumbent supplier for the service or product which you are selling, information about the company’s experience with the incumbent can determine how profitable any deal with the prospect could be, and what type of sales strategy would ultimately win the company’s business. You will need to know: (1) the level of your prospect’s satisfaction with the incumbent’s performance, (2) why the client wishes to replace the incumbent, and (3) whether or how the company wants certain aspects of the incumbent’s performance to be delivered differently by its next supplier. Sometimes a client has a perfectly good relationship with an incumbent supplier but wants to find out whether better options exist in the current market environment. Even so, knowing specifics about a prospect’s level of satisfaction with an incumbent supplier can help paint a more detailed picture of the company, and indicate how best to proceed in order to gain management’s favor and trust.
2. How does your organization approve deals of this type?
It is important to know how a potential client’s organization works internally when it comes to finalizing business decisions. Whether you are negotiating directly with the CEO, the buyer, or the budget holder, you will need to find out about the organization’s internal decision-making process. How long does the process take? Which stakeholders must become involved in approving a deal of the size that you propose? At which point should these players be included in meetings? Answers to these questions will help you to plan your strategy for the initial meeting with the prospect and define your objectives for subsequent sales-negotiation meetings.
3. What are your top three goals?
Asking a prospect about the most important corporate goals will give you concrete metrics upon which to base your sales pitch. Once you know exactly what the company wants, all that’s left for you to do is to convince management that you can provide the best solution. Expressing an interest in a client’s goals will also impress the decision-makers and help to gain their trust. This is because doing so shows that you’re not just trying to sell products or services simply to meet your company’s internal sales target. You’ll be signaling that you are genuinely focused on creating a business solution which will better equip the prospect to achieve its own corporate objectives.
4. Who holds the budget for this expenditure?
Unsurprisingly, questions about budget constraints are central to every sales negotiation process. While you will do well to get ballpark budgetary figures, your ultimate sales-negotiation goal is to find out who controls the budget for this product or service. If you are negotiating a marketing service, for example, you’ll most likely need to get approval from a senior manager in the marketing department.
Every veteran sales negotiator can share stories of a sale that was “in the bag,” only to be stalled by a budget freeze or some other budgetary issue. So, you’re justified in seeking confirmation of the prospect’s budget authorization. You may wish to invest less time or to delay negotiations until the department with which you’re negotiating gets the requisite budget approval.
5. How many suppliers are you considering?
Many sales professionals fear to ask this question about the competition. We recommend asking the question confidently using the requisite tact. Although the client won’t always be comfortable with providing this information, it is perfectly normal for a sales negotiator to ask for it. You may need to explain that you’re not being paid to merely to generate a proposal or complete the prospect’s RFP. You should explain that you need to assess your firm’s probability of winning the contract. If, however, you sense that your prospective client is not considering other suppliers, then it is best to steer clear of this question altogether.
The prospect’s competitor disclosure should influence your negotiation approach and may dictate the scope of your competitive analysis. If other suppliers are being considered, you will need to identify who these suppliers are. Additionally, you need to find out whether and how your firm’s products or services might fall short of the prospect’s expectations. Likewise, you’ll need to find out how your products or services outperform those of your competitors. If your prospect is considering other suppliers, this fact could affect the timeline of your sales negotiations and determine how competitive your first bid or proposal could be. If the buyer informs you that you have four competitors and your company’s bid will not be more highly favored than others, you may wish to bow out politely. Remember, however, that a professional buyer often needs to obtain proposals from a certain number of companies to comply with an internal mandate. So, expect some level of competition.
The traits of a successful negotiator include many soft skills such as patience, the ability to listen carefully, and the flexibility to innovate on the spot. These skills can be learned on the job. Likewise, the ability to act intuitively and prepare effectively for unexpected developments can also be learned over time. However, most sales professionals who need to become expert sales negotiators will benefit significantly from sales courses and workshops which efficiently teach sales-specific negotiation techniques. As described above, one of these techniques is to identify those powerful questions which need to be asked of a potential client, buyer, or customer before you start to develop a proposal.
Successful negotiation can save your business money, time, and resources, and increase profits in the long-run. It takes practice, but with adequate training and experience, asking the right negotiation questions becomes intuitive to every sales professional.