Sales tips, leadership communication skills insight and more from Steve Giglio, sales training professional for more than 25 years.

Essential Guide to Understanding Client Questions

You’ve prepared a presentation for weeks, doing all your homework, getting insight from your client, researching trends, etc. The day comes and you nail it! But then….they ask questions. And the wheels start coming off the bus. Been there? Most of us have.

As salespeople and communicators we must understand the essence and meaning of questions in business. Simply put…they are NOT picking on you. Questions from clients or prospects are requests for more information, not an attack on your ability or the ability of your company/product/service. Questions asked are not meant to debunk your idea; they are asked so that a better understanding can be gleaned.

Your reaction to client questions is as essential as what you say. Come off as defensive and they may think you have something to hide. Come off as too cocky and, well, no one really likes that. The key is understanding the nature of their questions so that you can answer appropriately, positively and with information that will allow them to make a decision on the next steps.

10 Fundamentals of Client Questions

To help, here are what I consider to be the 10 Fundamentals of Client Questions. Keep these in mind as you prepare for questions prior to your next meeting.

  1. Clients want information. Don’t take their questions personally.
  2. When asked questions, increase your empathy. Engage your client and reinforce that you understand their perspective as you give your answer.
  3. Anticipate client questions before the meeting and resolve them ahead of time. Have a colleague come up questions and see how you do answer them.
  4. Answer all questions…when appropriate. Be honest and forthright, of course. But, a client may try to jump the conversation ahead with a question, forcing you to move past key points that you need to make. Respectfully let them know you have a few points that will help to answer their question.
  5. When you resolve questions, you are teaching.
  6. Clarify general questions to pinpoint your response. It’s OK to answer a question with a question so that you get the heart of their concern/issue.
  7. Use confirming questions to verify that clients understood AND accept your answer. “Can you now see how our service will decrease your costs over time?” If they say no or give a lukewarm answer, probe further. “Our service alleviates X and provides more time for your team to do Y. Are you starting to see how that could lead to higher production and profitability?”
  8. Make your answers concise.
  9. Make eye contact and other physical movements that convey confidence in your answers.
  10. Be in charge of yourself; own your answers. Let them know by your words and actions that nothing is going to throw you off your game today…or ever.

If you want more information or details about any of these points, they are all given full explanation in my book:

Or just drop me an email and I’m happy to give you further insight. Let me know how your next round of client questions goes!

You Can Be My Wingman Anytime

It’s a little cliché but a favorite movie of mine is Top Gun. At the end of movie Iceman says to Maverick, “You can be my wingman anytime.” A wingman is a pilot who supports another pilot in a potentially dangerous flying environment, keeping his aircraft near the wing of the other’s. A key element is trust.

Create a Bond

Coaching an employee is similar. It creates a support bond with a person. To serve someone, it’s essential to be straight with them. They need to trust that you are giving them the straight story, not just what they want to hear.

All of us have choice in our behavior. Coaching is about creating behavioral choice for someone to comport themselves in a way that illicits understanding and follower-ship. You must understand their goals and challenges and forge a climate of discovery and achievement. Often, you live through their challenges with them.

The coaching road can be challenging but having a bond of understanding and belief in someone is core to development. You have to see the possibility in someone. You have to believe in them, often before they believe in themselves.

By adding the right, tailored context to behavior experimentation an executive can learn in real-time how to augment their default behavior into behavior that produces the best result. As this occurs, the joint fulfillment is priceless. You’ve created a trusting relationship and they know you, as their wingman, have their back.

Did you ever have a supervisor that acted as your wingman as you developed your career? Tell us about it with a reply below. Thanks. -SG

Vince Lombardi…with a Little Bit of Mom

My coaching style was once described by a client as “Vince Lombardi…with a little bit of mom in there.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know who Lombardi is (I guess there are people out there who don’t)…a little background. Vince Lombardi was a legendary, Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers coach during the 1960s. He lead that team to win the first two Super Bowls ever. And speaking of the Super Bowl…that tall silver trophy they give out to Super Bowl champions? It’s call the Lombardi Trophy. For more about him, check out Lombardi’s official site.

Growing up, Vince Lombardi was an important figure to me. He and his team stood for integrity, honor and discipline. I practically never missed a game. In reading his biographies throughout the years, I discovered his deep belief in his teams and desire to tirelessly get the most from them when they themselves didn’t think it was possible.

I’ve carried that ethos into my coaching practice, as this video explains…

Strength and Empathy

As I assess an executive at their initial stage of coaching, I’m always excited to go on the journey of transformation with them. As they evolve, so do I. We’re connected. As we meet and achieve mileposts, we celebrate together. With each achievement comes the opportunity to look back and notice the choice you now have in your behavior. You can either go back to the “old” you or remain in the “new” you. It’s now your choice, because you’ve succeeded at both.

It takes discipline to coach. You’ve got to have the desire for someone to grow. But the “mom” part comes in via the empathy required to support someone through their levels of behavior experimentation. The people I coach…their jobs are hard. They are required to deliver strong recommendations, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and be convincing. Far more than selling…it is persuading with purpose. I get that and use empathy to connect so that they trust what I’m telling them will, ultimately, improve their confidence, performance and results. It’s a balance between strong, direct communication and a softer approach that creates a safe atmosphere for development.

How would you describe your professional style? Leave a reply with your answer below. Thanks! -SG

How to Manage a Micromanaging Boss

A client of mine has been lamenting the meddling her boss frequently does. We determined her boss is often deep in the weeds of her business versus touching the weeds as bosses should.

Her peers feel the same way and frequently answer the boss’s questions hoping the boss will get distracted and meddle elsewhere.

Actually, all of the above is wrong.

If you really understand and empathize with your boss, you’ll realize that smart, successful bosses merely want to understand what is going on to contribute to the success of the business. They do not mean to be an overbearing boss. They don’t want to create extra work or move the project onto a tangent.

Rather, bosses will often ask questions that feel like an inquisition but in reality it’s their passion to understand the situation in a short amount of time that drives their “in-your-face” behavior.

So, how do you manage their expectations and continue with your work schedule?

Update Your Boss Well…and Often

Want to get a break from your boss? Preempt their interruptions with a formalized, brief, consistent update system. Don’t hear “burden” when I recommend this; hear “proactive management.”

All you need to do is notice the type of questions your boss is asking over a period of two months to understand what their values are and what concerns them.

Write these issues down, prioritize them and create an update system/agenda that preempts the asking of these questions. Make sure you present the linkage to each issue that concerns your boss. The more you do this, the more your boss will appreciate your pro-activeness and empathy.

Illustrate Your Concern and Judgement

Your boss will also appreciate your concern for them. You also illustrate your commercial judgment by mirroring their concerns and presenting preemptive road maps the team can follow. Even if one of your recommendations are off-base, you still illustrate your desire and will to move the issue forward.

Do you feel under the microscope all the time? How does that affect your work? Let me know in the replies below.  – SG

Notice Fortitude…and Its Absence!

I’ve recently had the opportunity to coach a professional athlete who decided to pursue a career in financial sales. The area he’s chosen is quite daunting in its complexity, yet his commitment to it is profound. As anyone would be when entering into a field with its own lexicon and intricate details, my client was challenged with putting the entire puzzle together in a short amount of time. Throughout his endeavor though, I’ve been struck and inspired by his discipline, positive mental attitude and, most of all, his fortitude.

Dictionary.com defines fortitude  as: mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously

One does not become a pro athlete overnight. It takes, among other things, a tremendous amount of practice, which is a test of fortitude. As such, we spent a good amount of time working on his delivery, focusing on using probing questions to understand a client’s goals and challenges. Several sessions included videotaping his sales presentations/recommendations. Upon seeing himself, he found his delivery to be halting versus conversational, disjointed versus seamless. This athlete realized each short coming and maturely focused on listening to my coaching, experimenting and running the plays I designed for him in a dogged, optimistic fashion. It’s quite inspiring; I never wanted our sessions to end!

There has never been a hint of resignation or frustration from him, only the discipline and fortitude of repetition. From this, he’s now conversational, curious and clear with his recommendations. He’s able to kid with certain clients he’s developed rapport with and close them with a nice level of relational urgency.

As a leader make sure you acknowledge this type of fortitude when you see it. Without acknowledging it, a person could feel the opposite. As this person excels, find ways they can stretch even further. Great achievers enjoy this attention and challenge. It affirms them.

In what area of your business communication could you exhibit more fortitude? Let me know with a reply below. Thanks! – SG

What I Learned from Don Rickles

Comics have always been my idols ever since I was a kid. The courage of a comic to take a room and deliver their material always impressed me as the most courageous act a person could make.

One of those idols, Don Rickles, passed away yesterday and his life left an impression with me. With Rickles, I learned you can take a risk in saying something unexpected to a person, PROVIDING you’ve got their best interest at heart. Every time I’ve taken that risk with a client, I’ve always provided the right context to my “lightening” comment. Often clients reconnect we me and recount that lightening statement as the one point that stuck with them and transformed their behavior.

You actually have to dig deeper to create the lightening statement. But when you do, you’ve got the opportunity to stand out as someone who passionately cares about someone or something and can back up your thinking. Several years ago, I recall recommending to a client they take a screen test in Los Angeles, given their charismatic delivery, since all they did was perform/speak versus genuinely desire to understand their client’s business before speaking about their offering. That’s a Don Rickles lightening statement.

It demonstrably, though, moved our conversation and relationship to a deeper level where we focused on transforming this selfish behavior to an empathetic relational behavior.

The coaching point is; don’t shy away from the Don Rickles statement, as long as your confident it will get your client’s attention. Once you’ve got their attention you can then present your rationale for the statement which illustrates your deep concern for their success and well-being.

I don’t have any joke or one-liner here I can conclude this with that could come even close to the direct wit of Don Rickles. So, I won’t event try. He was that good.

Please share your thoughts about Don Rickles in the comments below.  Thanks. – SG

Find Your Client’s Motivation First, Not Yours

Solution.

Problem.

Motivation.

Many times, I see people frame their “ask” of clients in this order. Right out of the gate, they speak about a great service or product they’ve come to discuss. They move next to saying that the solution will fix a problem the client has. And lastly, they will relate that solution to something they believe will motivate the client to say, “Yes…I’m in.”

This is all backwards, as a client of mine found out recently.

He asked me for some help in framing an “ask.” He was worried his client would take it as a condemnation of how things were being handle by him, and his team. He knew he had a good solution but, it would involve a new process that dealt with a serious shortcoming. Product….then solution.

The issue here is that you are telling a client they are doing something wrong or, they are wrong for not knowing something could be done better. That’s not a strong motivator for anyone. And there’s the key focus…motivation. That’s really what you are there to do, right? Persuade your audience so that they are motivated to accept your solution?

In business we’re often pressed to produce a result or fix an issue with no time to design our “ask.” Try asking yourself, “What’s the motivator for the person I’m presenting my ask?”
Here’s a hint, 9 out of 10 times their motivator is NOT yours.

By declaring your “ask” too frequently you risk getting the reputation of “its his/her way or the highway/she’s difficult to work with”, or worse “she’s quite selfish”…etc.

Its better to to pause/think and ask yourself, what’s the motivator for my listener?

I did this with my client and he suddenly had a revelation…by instituting the process he was recommending, his client’s head of sales would actually sell more product at the best margin. “That’s how you initiate the conversation,” I said to him. And we crafted his ask by starting with, “I’ve got an idea on how to increase sales with the best margin.” Now they are on the same wavelength.

 

Try re-ordering your next presentation with motivation as the lead. Let me know how your communication goes!

Timing a Sales Call

Many factors come into play at a sales meeting, and it’s impossible to control them all. But, one you CAN control is the timing of the agenda. By stating clearly at the beginning of the meeting exactly what you intend to do and how long the process will take, and then getting agreement to it, you command the situation and stay in charge of the meeting.

However, like many things…this says easy, does hard. Clients aren’t always amenable to your agenda and timing. Here are a few tips to make that easier to handle.

Ask for the Time

We’ve all done it….run out of time. This is especially disturbing when you don’t get to the “close” of a presentation. A lot of factors contribute to that happening but, I’ve found the biggest is when people don’t stick to their own timing.

Critical to this is asking, up front, how much time your client has, especially when you are greeted with “I don’t have much time today.” I recommend you probe further about this to eliminate the guesswork. “I’m sorry you are rushed today. How much time do you have for us to discuss your [fill in their critical need here].” At this point, you have gotten a commitment of time. That’s a start.

But how do you break up that time so that you accomplish your mission?

Set the Timing

Below is a chart with my recommended timing for a one-hour sales call:


Starting with your Opening Comments, everything has a time limit. Yes, the “chit-chat” at the start of the meeting always happens and it is a time to break the ice but, you have to know it is eating into your opening volley. Take up four minutes with introductions and you’ll have just one left to introduce your intended purpose.

Use this guide when putting together your agenda. Each element is critical because it has either your client or you delivering important information. That’s right….your presentation is not just about YOU talking. You’ll see that I dedicate 10 minutes right at the beginning to “Probing and Listening.” You might have entered the meeting thinking you’ve nailed your recommendations but, this is the time to find out new information and adjust your recommendations so that your information is relevant to their current situation.

Stick to the Timing

Each element in this presentation guide is critical so, don’t bypass one just to get to the other. Believe me, that’s easy to do. So many times, I’ve seen even veteran salespeople skip the last step…the closing! Many times it’s because they’ve run out of time. That’s a cardinal sin in my book. You are in charge of the time! Be sure you give yourself the space at the end to ask for what you came there for or, you risk the meeting being a waste of everyone’s time.

“Yes, but my client wanted to discuss some other stuff and that messed up the agenda.” It happens…a client wants to go on and on about issues that may, or may not, be relevant to your presentation. Again, you have to take control here. “I understand that these are important issues and I’m happy to address them. However, given the time you’ve allotted us today, can we either extend our time or, focus on [critical issue] today and I can return to discuss those issues?” Either way, you’ve just regained control.

“But Steve…what if they don’t give me a full hour?” Sure….60 minutes is a good bit of time and clients may not give it to you. So, once you find out (hopefully well in advance of the meeting) how much time they do have, scale the timing to fit it. But keep the proportions the same so that you can be effective delivering your presentation and reserve time at the end for questions and the closing.

You may get only one shot at this meeting so, stay in control of it by organizing and adhering to your agenda.

Using this timing chart as a guide, let me know how your next meeting goes with a reply below. Thanks! -sg

Sales Training Tip: Meeting Preparation Puts You In Control

Meeting preparation is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that you stay in control of the meeting agenda.  Yet, I am amazed how many executives and sales people are on autopilot when they get ready for an important meeting.  They arrive with a presentation or talking points based only on their company’s data.  What doesn’t come with them is a series of questions crafted from good client reconnaissance.

Preparing for a Meeting: Research and Empathy

Preparing for a presentation or sales call is a repetitive act.  It’s easy to lose your creativity.  But when you do, you lose your empathy for your client and their issues. Client research, thoroughly performed, will reveal unique aspects of any business, giving you an opportunity to show your skills at effective problem solving. It also demonstrates a great deal of respect towards your client.

Good Research Leads to Successful Meetings

Good research will lead you to want to ask  specific questions not only to verify the research, but to understand where your client is headed and you can help them get there. It seems basic but really, how can you make any strategic recommendations to your clients if you don’t know specifics about their overall business and current issues?

Showcase your research through intelligent probing questions. Not only will you get information you can use but, you’ll demonstrate the prep work you’ve done, indicating concern and respect for your client. Remember that simply looking at their brochure and web site will only show you the tip of the iceberg.  Due diligence, done well, will take you below the water line to where the real story lies!

Have you ever walked into a meeting knowing you were not at all prepared? Share that story with us in a reply below! -SG

 

Convey Messages Effectively: Listen to Yourself First

I often coach executives who are preoccupied with their image and how they’ll be perceived by their teams, the public etc.
This is very understandable. All of us are concerned about how the public sees and hears us at some point.

Here’s a secret though…whether it’s mission critical or not, your message is best appreciated when its delivered from your heart NOT your image/ego.

Over thinking a message, piece of analysis or sales plan often works against you. Determining what your audience truly needs to understand trumps what you need to look like. It really isn’t about you. It’s about conveying your message effectively so that listeners understand how it affects their business and lives. Do your best to come from this place, not your own.

Have Your Heard Yourself Lately?

Here’s an example I wish I wasn’t sharing with you that occurred recently:
I was referred to an executive who runs a large international investment firm. Upon meeting him and probing to understand his goals and challenges, he lamented that he’d become quite frustrated. He felt there was a lack of understanding on the part of the investment community with regard to his investment methodology. As a result, they hesitate in placing funds with him. He was really upset by this.

Upon videotaping his delivery of this investment methodology, I was struck by how complex he made it. So much so that I had to remark, “Were you aware that when you present your methodology it’s as though you’re speaking to yourself?” He was not. Looking at himself on the video, he could clearly see what I meant. It shocked him.

At this point I stressed that his investment methodology was NOT about glorifying himself or his smart team. Rather, it should be about educating unsophisticated listeners as to why his methodology works. I said to him, “Its not about you, its about them.” For the next two hours we focused on how to re-engineer his methodology so that his listeners could self-realize the secret sauce he and his team have discovered, in their own aperture, not his.

I speak a lot about listening first. But when was the last time you listened to yourself from THEIR perspective. Give it a try and let me know what you discover.