Discovery Questioning: The Key to Closing Business
Written by Shelley Hall, Catalytic Management
Selling is a complicated skill and when managing teams for success, sales managers are always trying to find the key skills on which to focus. Every aspect of your particular selling process is important and weakness in one area will naturally reduce your closing percentage, but the most important step in the selling process is discovery questioning. Many call this the needs analysis step, but just determining the need is not enough. As a sales manager, if you want to improve your service or product presentation, build deeper relationships with prospects or clients and close more business, then focus the lion’s share of your energy into building the discovery questioning skills of your sales team. Here are ten reasons why mastering discovery questioning is worth your time and effort:
- It helps the prospect see problems or challenges they didn’t realize existed, broadening possible solutions
- It frames the conversation around solutions and creates the image that your company solves problems, not just pushes product/services
- It determines how you should customize your service/product presentation, focusing on the benefits and solutions that are the most relevant and most important to the customer
- It establishes the salesperson’s credibility by demonstrating their understanding of the prospect’s industry or market
- It provides an opportunity to assess the prospect’s buying and communication style so presentations and proposals are targeted to how they wish to receive and process information
- It uncovers the decision criteria and decision makers
- It establishes the consequences for the prospect of not acting
- It gives you a glimpse of potential objections and gives you the opportunity to answer them early in the conversation
- It explores the value and/or importance of solving the problem
- It begins the closing process very early in the conversation – closing becomes a foregone conclusion
Really deep and effective discovery does all of the above and more IF your sales team asks before they tell. Any sales conversation should focus on the prospect or client first. You can’t customize your presentation to their specific needs if you don’t ask first. You can’t tailor your value proposition to match their value definition if you tell first and then ask. If your sales people are giving your product or service spiel first, your chances of closing have dropped dramatically. Don’t be fooled when your sales people tell you they always ask first and that they are good at uncovering needs. Find out if they’re right–ride with them and listen to how the discovery goes.
Be sure they are asking “comparison questions.” Comparison questions dig deeper than the typical “what kinds of insurance have you had in the past?” Your team should be asking, “what has changed since you last purchased insurance?” “Would you compare your risk tolerance today to what it may have been five years ago? Why do you think it has or has not changed?”
Coach your sales team to move beyond the superficial discovery questions. Coach them in your sales meetings and on the road. Sales meetings should always have an educational component. For your next sales meeting, create prospect scenarios and have the team role play asking discovery questions. Or, as a team, ask them to list the discovery questions they would ask the specific prospect. Create a prospect scenario including the discovery questions that should be asked and the answers the prospect might give. Then ask a sales person to customize their sales presentation based on the prospect’s answers. As sales manager, teach them the importance of discovery with consistent education and focus.
Great discovery questions fall into four categories:
· Circumstance questions collect data and facts
· Challenge questions reveal problems, challenges and dissatisfactions
· Consequence questions explore the consequences or implications of a problem
· Value - Benefit questions uncover the value of solving the problem and the urgency to do so
A good sales person will create a list of discovery questions before they leave the office for an appointment and ensure they include questions under each of the discovery categories above. Developing the list in advance ensures the sales person is focusing on the answers during the meeting and not thinking about what they should ask next. When you ride with your sales people, ask to see their discovery questions. Work with them on including questions under each category and coach them through a custom presentation based on potential answers. As sales manager, the best use of your time is in coaching your team for excellence and by improving the team’s discovery skills you’ll increase your closing percentage and increase revenue–the ultimate goal of any sales manager.
About the Author: Shelley F. Hall is a highly successful entrepreneur and corporate fugitive who has built, reinvented and turned around companies for the past 20 years. As Principal, Managing Director of Catalytic Management, Shelley delivers velocity driven consulting that accelerates business growth through sales effectiveness, customer loyalty and process improvement. As a thought leader and speaker, Shelley has published dozens of articles for such major business journals as Business Performance Magazine, CEO Refresher, The Handbook of Business Strategy, ManageSmarter, Sales and Service Excellence, Women’s Business and many more. Website: www.catalyticmanagement.com
Six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda
New Deloitte research reveals that tax leaders are under increasing pressure to add strategic value as companies accelerate business model transformation, from undergoing digital transformations to rethinking their supply chains or investing in green initiatives.
According to Phil Mills, Deloitte Global Tax & Legal Leader, to “truly deliver value to the business, the tax function needs to rethink its resourcing model and transform its technology infrastructure to create capacity and control costs”.
And the good news, according to Mills, is that tax and business leaders have more options at their disposal to achieve this.
Reflecting the insights of global tax and finance executives at global companies, Deloitte’s Tax Operations in Focus study reveals the six issues at the top of tax and finance leaders’ agenda.
Trend 1: Businesses seek more strategic counsel from tax
Companies are being pushed to develop new digital products and distribution channels and accelerate sustainable transformation and this is taking them into uncharted tax territory. Tax leaders say their teams must have the resources and skills to give deeper advisory support on digital business models (65%), supply chain restructuring (49%) and sustainability (48%) over the next two years. This means redrawing the boundaries of what tax professionals focus on, and accelerating adoption of advanced technologies and lower-cost resourcing models to meet compliance requirements and free up time.
According to Joanne Walker, Group Tax Director, BT Group PLC, "There’s still a heavy compliance load today, but the vision for the future would be that much of that falls away, and tax people become subject matter experts who help program the machine, ensure quality control, and redirect their time to advisory activity.”
Trend 2: Tipping point for resourcing models
Business partnering demands in the tax department are on the rise, but 93% of tax leaders say their department’s budget is remaining flat or falling. To ensure that the tax function can redefine itself as a strategic function at the pace that is required, leaders are choosing to move increasing amounts of compliance and reporting to a combination of shared service centers, finance departments, and outsourcing providers that have invested in best-in-class technology.
Trend 3: Digital tax administration is moving faster than expected
in addition to the rising focus of the corporate tax department partnering with their business counterparts, transformative changes to the way companies share tax information with revenue authorities is also creating an imperative to modernize operations at a faster pace. Nine in 10 (92%) respondents say that shifting revenue authority demands on digital tax administration will have a moderate or high impact on tax operations and resources over the next five years—and several heads of tax said the trend is moving faster than expected.
"It’s really stepped up in the last couple of years," says Anna Elphick, VP Tax, Unilever. "Tax authorities don't just want a faster turnaround for compliance but access into a company’s systems. It's not unreasonable to think that in a much shorter time than we expect, compliance will be about companies reviewing a return that's been drafted by the tax authorities."
Trend 4: Data simplification and lower-cost resourcing are top priorities
Tax leaders said that simplifying data management (53%) and moving to lower-cost resourcing models (51%) must be prioritized if tax is to become more proactive at delivering strategic insights to the business. Many tax teams are ensuring that they have a seat at the table as ERP systems are overhauled, which is paying dividends: 56% of those that have introduced NextGen ERP systems are now highly effective at supporting the business with scenario-modeling insights. Only 35% of those with moderate to low use of NextGen ERP systems said the same.
At Stryker, “we automated the source P&L process for transfer pricing which took a huge burden off of the divisions," says David Furgason, Vice President Tax. "Then we created a transfer price database to deposit and retrieve data so we have limited impact on the divisions. We are moving to a single ERP platform which will help us make take the next step with robotics.”
Trend 5: Skillsets are shifting
Embedding a new data infrastructure and redesigning processes are critical for the future tax vision. Tax leaders are aligned — data skills (45%) and technology process experience (43%) are ‘must have’ skills in a tax department of the future, but more traditional tax specialist knowledge also remains key (40%). The trick to success will be in tax leaders facilitating the way these professionals, with their different backgrounds, can work together collectively to unlock lasting value.
Take Infineon Technologies, which formed a VAT technology and governance group "that has the right knowledge about how to change the system to ensure it generates the right reports", according to Matthias Schubert, Global Head of Tax. "Involving them early was key as we took a greenfield approach, so we could think about what the optimal processes would look like and how more intelligent systems could make an impact
Trend 6: 2020 brought productivity improvements
Improved productivity (50%) and accelerating shifts to remote working (48%) were cited as the biggest operational benefits to emerge from COVID-19-driven disruption. But, as 78% of leaders now plan to embed either hybrid or fully remote models in the tax function long term, 34% say maintaining productivity benefits is a top concern. And, as leaders think about building their talent pipeline and strengthening advisory skill sets, 47% say they must prioritize new approaches to talent recognition and career development over the next two years, while 36% say new processes for involving tax in business strategy decisions must be established.