Next Steps (Issue 480)

In which we consider broadening our "next steps" questions to reduce objections and accelerate implementation of solutions.

We’re packing for a weekend away. My wife (making a RARE appearance in this column) is leading the project. I ask, “What else do you see we need to do to finish packing?” She replies, listing several items.

I connect with remaining-child-at-home to work with me to complete the  items. A few minutes pass… and we hear mom/wife bellowing from another room in the house, “Can’t anybody see the laundry needs doing?” The child and I look at each other. Nope, neither of us had seen it. Bad karma in the house now.

We peel off to handle laundry, disrupting and stalling the tasks we had supposed were our main mission, which is now in trouble.

We fall into this trap sometimes when we’re closing a sale. We typically ask questions to identify the next steps to close the sale and implement our solution. We’ll ask, “What else do we need to do to complete this order?” That’s like asking, “what else do you see we need to do to finish packing?”

However, our clients, like my wife, usually are playing with a bigger picture than the piece we’re working with. Sometimes, our piece and the other pieces don’t match up. At this point, bellowing can be heard and the sale or use of our product is jeopardized or delayed.

Consider asking an additional question: “What else will you have to change or adjust  in the company in order for you to implement our proposed solution?” or words to that effect. Consider how this might have gone at my house, while we were packing.

Me: “What else do you see we need to do to finish packing? [[ See the mistake here? By saying the word “packing” on the end, I’m limiting my wife’s thinking to “packing.” So she responds, thinking only about packing. In a sales conversation, we make the same mistake when we ask what else must happen in order to conclude our transaction. The prospect limits his or her response to the transaction.]]

Wife: “Blah, blah, and blah.” (several items)

Me: “What else will we have to handle or finish in order for you to feel comfortable that we can leave? [[ Now I’m working in the context of the end result (we can leave for our trip). To get at this, I ask a broad, open question.]]

Wife: “I’d like to get the laundry finished, the blah blah put away, the wink wonk finished, then we’re ready. [[ The broad, open question teases out unrelated but important items that we need to handle in order for us to get the benefit of packing, i.e. we can leave.]]

Me: “Anything else we have to address?[[ Courageously, I stick with it, hoping that the answer to this question is “no,” but better to find out now than later.]]

Wife: “No, that’s it.”


So, when you’re wrapping up the details of an order, take a step back to work in the context of the end result to which your product or service will contribute. Ask a question designed to find out what other steps, related and not related to your sale, are needed in order for your prospect or customer to gain the full benefit of your product or service.

The prospect’s answer may show you obstacles you could not have anticipated otherwise and that, perhaps, you can help resolve. At the very least, you’ll have a better notion of whether the sale will really happen and whether the prospect will get the desired end result.

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