Be Specific

In which we learn to ask direct questions to elicit direct, factual answers. Last week, we invented "Nick-Speak."

I was working with groups of sales people who call on small businesses. The focus of our work:  Questions to draw information about operating costs and cash flow patterns for the businesses and their owners which the sellers could then use as reference points to offer best practices, advice, and products.

“Nick-Speak” means brief, direct questions that ask for specific, exact replies we could enter into a spreadsheet when we’re learning about a client process or we’re quantifying issues to discuss the value of the solution we can offer.

For example, one could ask:  “How do you expect your inventory levels to be next year?”

A perfectly good question, but not precise.  Translating to Nick-Speak examples:

“In which month do you expect your inventory level to peak?”

“How much cash do you expect to pay out to your suppliers, by month, leading to the peak?”

“How much will your operating costs be by month during the pre-season ramp up period?”

“In how many weeks following each of those cash outflows, do you expect to receive inflows sufficient to recover your costs?”

“In which week or month do you expect the gap between inflows and outflows to be largest?”

“In each of those weeks, how much cash do you expect to receive?”

“How many dollars will that gap be?”

“In what month will you break even?”

Through these questions, we’re attempting to understand a situation precisely and help our customers understand it, too.

Questions to focus or amplify “pain”  would sound like, “How will this gap affect you and the business?”  “What might you have to defer or not do if the cash flows are, in fact, what you’ve just described?”   “What do you see as the short term and long term impacts of these deferrals?”

These questions are a LOT more powerful if we know the facts because we can precisely quantify the gaps with our prospect or client.

The facts we elicit in such detail are also useful when we’re presenting our ideas or recommendations.  In order to position the value of the recommendations, we have to know… specifically, as in Nick-Speak… the dollar amounts and timing of the costs we’re proposing to reduce or the increased revenue or value we’re proposing to increase… compared to the cost of our solution.

We know our prices. If we don’t know the dollar amounts on the customer’s side of the table, we’re VERY likely to get a price objection.  Our prospect won’t necessarily have thought through or realized ALLLLLLL of the costs she’s incurring or revenue she’s giving up by continuing with her current methods.

One of our jobs as sellers and consultants is to drag her through those costs – direct costs, indirect costs, costs of her time, opportunity costs if she’s focused on this issue versus others – then compare them to the cost of the solution.

Example: “Obvious” costs incurred in her current approach: $1,500 per year. Price of our solution to make those costs go away:  $3,000 per year.  No sale.

Try again: Total “dragged through the details” costs discovered with her current approach:  $8,000 a year.  Price of our solution to make those costs go away: $3,000. Voila:  Business case.

Be specific!  Nick-Speak.

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