Pitching & Presenting

One Simple Question – The One That Prospects Love

One Simple Question – The One That Prospects Love


Last year, I was helping a client’s sales team in the early stage with a new prospect.

The account exec in charge had held two meetings with a junior manager at the prospect’s company, and now he was going to meet a decision-maker who had a potential need and who had access to budgets.

As we prepared for the meeting two days away, my client kept referring to his firm’s killer presentation materials, and I kept pushing him toward a more customer-focused approach.  He seemed dismissive: it all seemed so-o-o-o elementary.

“Everyone knows about customer focus.  I’ve been in business for a long time.  Don’t you worry.”

Alarm bells rang in my head.

Why?  Because so often in sales, those who say, “I know that,” don’t do it.

It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do.  And no where is this gap more glaring than in the doing of customer-focused stuff in the early stages of a sale.

Two mornings later, the meeting started in my client’s home turf, their head office.  The sales exec had a PowerPoint presentation cued up.  I don’t know the number of slides, we never finished it, but a half-hour into it, we were up to at least 20… and counting.  “Our philosophy.  Our approach.  Our list of clients.  Our customer’s challenges.  Our solutions.”

The prospect looked out the window, then at his watch.  This was not going well and my client, Mr. Self-Proclaimed-Customer-Focused-Seasoned-Sales-Pro, didn’t even know it.  I tried in vain to catch his eye.

He introduced a second customer’s challenge, and stopped to inhale some much-needed oxygen.

Opportunity doesn’t knock twice.  I leaned forward, looked at the prospect… and asked one simple question.

“Is this at all similar to what you guys are up against?”

The prospect pulled his chair closer to the table, cleared his throat and said, “Well, kind of.  Our bigger issue is…”

This dialogue went on in a robust fashion for 90 minutes.  It concluded with clear action points and a date in the diary for a follow-up meeting that included another key player from the prospect’s side.

The game-changer for this particular meeting was one simple question.

This question can take various forms.  In fact, it has to.  It has to be adapted to the context of the conversation.  It has to seem natural… be natural.

But the crux of this simple question is this:  “What are your biggest challenges?”

Sure, the prospect needs to know what you do, but he doesn’t need to know every detail.  Prospects want to talk about their business, their initiatives, their projects, their problems, their opportunities… all of which bring challenges.

“What are the biggest challenges you folks are facing in this area?”

This is the question that prospects love.

This is the question that, early in the sales cycle, puts me in the game more times than not.

How about you?  Do you have similar early-stage questions that prospect love?


Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/crystaljingsr/