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Can One Question Change the Cadence of an Entire Sales Meeting?

Posted by Michael Douglas on 4/5/16 11:45 AM

Can it?

I am about 15 weeks into my transformation to a sales rockstar.  One of my biggest obstacles as a salesperson is my need for approval. It affects far more than you could possibly realize.

But really, the worst part, is that it has prevented me from asking difficult questions. Questions that, if asked, would really help both myself and my potential customer.  It would keep us from wasting time on things that aren’t important.  It would keep us focused on the things that matter, things that matter to them.  Isn’t that our job as salespeople?  To find out what matters to our customer?  To find out about their dreams and goals so we know if we can help them get there?  So by that perspective, isn’t it selfish of us not to ask difficult questions?

I was recently told, “you need to learn to be the person your customer needs you to be, not necessarily the person they want you to be.”


I was in a meeting last week.  I had flown down for this meeting and had my boss in tow.  We were meeting with two senior level managers from a $22B/yr company.  I’m sure these guys have a lot on their plate.  Prior to the meeting, I established an agenda with them.  I used their words not mine, we were going to talk about exactly what they wanted to talk about. They gave me a list of about 6 things.  So it goes…

“Alright, so we have this list, where would you like to start?

“Let’s start here.”

“Ok, why do we want to start here?”

“Well, I guess because it’s first on the list.”  {Chuckles}

“Is it the most important?”

“Well, it’s all important.”

“Ok, so help me out here.  If you were to rank this in terms of value, Low/Medium/High, where would it fall?”

“I don’t know, Low to Medium.”

I pause.  There is an elephant in the room.  It’s huge.  The old me, might not have addressed it.  The new me has a tiny Carole on his shoulder.  They both simultaneously smack me across my head.  I know I need to do it.

“You don’t know me very well.  But if you decide you want to know me better after today, you will learn I am a very transparent guy.  I have a question, but I am afraid to cross the line.  If I ask it, and you think I crossed the line, will you tell me?”

I think it’s safe to say, nobody else has ever set up a question to this man before as I have. He looks at me puzzled through his glasses, and scrunches his face.  “Well, I am a transparent guy too so yeah, I’ll tell you.  What’s your question?”

“You don’t seem like the type of guy that flies by the seat of his pants.  You have 2 hours scheduled with us today.  You have brought in your team.  Why would you commit that kind of time and resources to something that is a Low to Medium priority?”

It felt great.

And the meeting changed.  He informed us that the first agenda item was a Low to Medium to him, but probably a Medium to High for his team.  He said “but that one,” pointing to the third agenda item, “The CEO is on me to fix it, that’s my highest priority right now.”

Now we are getting somewhere.

Ever had a similar experience?  Ever have one question completely change the entire meeting?  What was the question?  How did the person respond?

Topics: sales coach