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Knowing the Facts & Fiction in Selling

By Percy Chong, 14th January 2015

So much have been written about fact-finding and information gathering, and how these valuable information uncovered may lead to a successfully sale close. ASG would like to share some insights on the fact-finding and deconstruct it, so that even a sales novice will be able to understand and appreciate the importance of getting it right.

In order to understand more about fact-finding, it is crucial for all salesperson to first learn, how to distinguish information collected between:

1)      Soft information / facts
2)      Hard Information / facts

Soft facts are information uncovered through asking sales qualifying questions. Before the salesperson brings out the big guns and rush into preparing the proposals, the prospect needs to be qualified. It doesn’t make good business sense to invest resources to scope out the proposals, to only realise that the prospect is actually a “suspect”.

Key soft information or sales qualifiers includes:

  • Budget
  • Authority / Decision-maker
  • Needs
  • Competition
  • Time-line

Knowing all these qualifying information would undoubtedly give the salesperson a sure footing, before proceeding to fact-find for the hard information.

The hard facts are essentially information relating to the prospect’s requirements. Asking specific or domain related questions, will allow the salesperson to collect this information and scope out the proposal according to the prospect’s needs. And because these product/service related questions are so routinely asked, organisation has been known to develop them into a questionnaire or checklist to assist the salesperson in their hard information gathering. Many progressive organisations have even embedded the soft information to be gathered into the same checklist.

A common mistake that salesperson makes when fact-finding is they tend to jump into asking for hard information before confirming and qualifying the prospect (ie. through soft questions). They are excited to scope the project and they usually perceived the opportunity to present the proposal as good chance to secure the sale. But the truth is far from it.

These salespersons have been known to be sitting on a huge pile of proposals and are ever hopeful of its conversion. They never did realise that the sales is not likely to happen and they are still diligently reporting the same sales opportunity in their pipeline during weekly sales reviews. The impact from this protracted delusion, will results in the inability of the salesperson to learn and identify the real reasons for the “lost” of sales; and how sales are actually “won”. Was budget constraint, or competition the ultimate reason for the lost of opportunity? This truth will forever elude them.

On top of the delusions and inability to learn, the frustration of not being able to secure the sales and the huge amount of wasted man-hours preparing the dud proposals; will inadvertently hasten the demise of the salesperson’s selling career.

Hence, it is important to recognise that there exists an order in the information gathering process. The soft facts need to be probed early to establish the quality of the prospect, before rushing into asking the requirement questions to scope out the proposals.

ASG has also been frequently asked about the appropriateness of soliciting the soft questions (ie. especially the sales qualifying question about budget/affordability) too early. Salespersons are often concern with offending or “scaring” the prospects, too early in the sales meeting. And this hidden concern is partially responsible for the high number of “no taken up” proposals that many organisations are seeing today.

Salesperson need to understand that the opportunity to ask the soft questions, lies in whether or not they have establish a strong connection and trust with the prospect. Before embarking on the fact-finding exercise, the prospect needs to be reasonably impressed or “buys” the salesperson first. However, that topic (ie. on Follow-up and Connection) will not be discussed here as it concerns a different component of the sales process altogether.

But, a secondary solution may also be found in the development of good scripts to ask these soft questions. It’s high time novice salesperson start to realise that even the seemingly unpleasant or inappropriate questions or situations, may be expressed in the most positive and impressive manner. And that’s precisely why salespersons are rewarded for their gift of the gab.

So be sure to recognise the facts from fiction for the business case, before launching into an elaborate preparation to pursue a porcelain egg that will never hatch.

Article contributed by Percy Chong (through Asian Sales Guru)
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