A client of mine, we'll call him Scott (mostly because that's his name) was preparing for a big client meeting. He and his team were reviewing their presentation and proposal. They knew the customer's business quite well. Scott's team had done a thorough analysis of the competition. They had assembled impressive resumes, and plenty of industry experience. They even felt that they were priced competitively for the market. 

I asked a simple series of questions that threw the team for a loop:  

  • Why do they need this, now?
  • What happens if they do nothing?
  • What did they tell you they expect to see as results six months from now?

The reason the team went into a frenzy is because this was not where they were focused. They had invested countless hours on their strategy, team, technical approach, and proposal. Their presentation was designed to cover those points. Why was I asking these other questions?

Why These Questions Matter

Over the past several years, I have spoken with thousands of CEOs and executives around the world. Whenever I am delivering a keynote address or workshop to such a group, I run them through an exercise to simulate a business purchase.

The scenario: One of their employees asks them if they can purchase a product or service for $20,000. What are the questions the CEO or executive would have to ask to be comfortable making an informed decision to either approve or deny the purchase request?

The Questions Might Surprise You

Ultimately, the executives work in teams to define their top three questions. Across cultures, continents, industries, and companies ranging from $1 million to multi-billion dollar enterprises, the final questions remain the same:

  1. What problem does this solve or why do we need it?
  2. What is the likely outcome or result?
  3. Why is this our best alternative?

There are discussions about risks, about how the fictional product or service does what it does. Ultimately, however, those questions don't make the final cut. I then ask, "How many of you ask these same questions when making decisions in your business?"  I get the same near-unanimous response each time.

The smiles on their faces demonstrate that most of the executives do not consciously ask these questions. They just happen to be the questions that matter. In Same Side Selling, my co-author Jack Quarles, a long-time procurement expert, and I noted how decisions are often impacted by unconscious actions.

The Surprising Truth

When helping companies shift their sales culture, I spend a fair amount of time listening in on sales meetings. I'm the annoying guy who consistently asks, "What did the customer say happens if they don't solve this now?"  A big majority of the sales professionals look back with a blank stare. The top performers, however, always have that answer at the forefront of their mind.

Put This to Work

You might like chasing deals for a long time and end up losing to a non-decision. If that's the case, stop reading now. Otherwise, try this simple step with your organization.

For each opportunity, have your team write down why the client needs this solution, what happens if they don't solve it now, and how they define the likely outcome.

It doesn't matter what you or your team thinks. All that matter is what the customer has said. If you don't have this information in your customer's own words, then you are flying blind. 

Track which opportunities end up being real and which ones die on the vine based on the answers to those questions. The results might surprise you - but they shouldn't.

It's Your Turn

What gets you stuck in business development? Share your comments or requests below and I'll personally take the time to answer each one.