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intimidating to certain personality styles. The other concern is that they end the conversation. Once a
closed probe is answered you have to start another conversation. Closed probes should only be used for
verification, commitment, or confirming (closing). Examples of closed prompts include the words:
 do
 have
 are
 will
 won't
 can
 can't
 shall

An excellent strategy to help identify the decision maker (the bag of money) is to use these three
closed probes when talking with your customer or with senior management:
1. Do you (Does X) make the decisions?
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Do you (Does X) have a budget?
Do you (Does X) talk with anyone else prior to a decision?

My experience shows that the customer will answer yes to the first two questions but introduce a
second party when asked the third question. This is a red flag because the additional person is often
the final decision maker. You must understand who is involved and how the final decision is made. Your
objective now is to get an audience with that person, hopefully with the support of your initial contact.
This simple strategy is so overlooked and yet effective that it alone will help increase your close ratio.
We often waste a lot of time by getting sucked into dealing with the wrong people, people who think
they have the final authority to purchase.
Reflective probes are used to identify personal biases of the customer, which is exactly what you want.
Customers often answer questions with an eye to the corporation, answering with the best interests of
the corporation in mind. However, you need to differentiate yourself by understanding and satisfying the
personal biases and preferences of the buyer, the bag of money. Reflective probes are very effective for
drawing out background information, personal feelings, and opinions. To get past common corporate
responses, ask uncommon questions. Design specific, reflective probes, that encourage your customer
to tell you things not told to the competition. The decision to buy from you will be based on satisfying
both corporate needs as well as personal biases and preferences. Your customer can decide on vendor
A or B, both are capable of doing a good job, but the final decision comes down to which vendor
recognized and satisfied all aspects of their decision. For example, the customer may only have two
years' experience with the current company but 15 years' experience in the industry. You want to tap
into his or her total experience. That information can help you design a solution that satisfies both
corporate needs and personal biases. In the training business, role playing is a good example”some
customers like them and some are biased against feeling they are too artificial and ineffective. Know the
human side of your customer. The key is to recognize your customer's work experience and ask
well-designed reflective probes. Reflective probes include the words:
 feel
 opinion
 perception
 sense
 personally
 aware
 belief
 view
 experience
 previous

Examples include; "What are your personal feelings about . . .?" or "What is your perception of ...?" or
"What is your previous experience with ...?" A favorite of mine is "If it were" your company what would
you do?" That usually gets them going.

You'll be amazed at the unexpected responses, yet pleased with the helpful information reflective
probes reveal.
Conversational probes represent a style of questioning that is gaining in popularity. I have been
experimenting with conversational probes, and along with other sales entrepreneurs I have found that it's
a much more relaxed, natural approach. Conversational probes are used to start, encourage, and
maintain a normal conversation. The questions themselves are not anything special or unique, but I
suggest it's a matter of using a mixture of open, closed, and reflective probes while pursing a normal

Quite frankly, I suggest you quit worrying about labeling your probes opened or closed and simply ask
your customer a series of smart questions and enjoy a professional, social type of conversation.
Continue your conversational probes until all the customer's needs and expectations have been
explored and all the parameters to a possible solution have been covered. In other words, keep asking
questions until a solution presents itself, until a 100-watt light bulb goes off in your head with a solution
that excites both you and your customer. I would suggest that in a typical sales call you should be
asking upwards of 50“60 questions. A lot of these questions are what I refer to as clarification
questions. For example, if the customer responds to your "What is important to you?" question with
"Service is important" then you must clarify it by asking "What does good service look like to you?"
Likewise, if they respond with "Quality is important" or "Delivery is important" you must clarify by asking
exactly what they mean by quality or delivery. The danger is sales representatives are far too zealous to
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respond rather than taking the time to fully understand the customers' issues. Hence, by using a
combination of conversational, reflective, and clarification probes, it doesn't take long to ask 50“60

Should our communication strategy change when talking to a customer versus a friend or spouse? It
shouldn't. Keep it simple and relaxed. I've yet to hear a salesperson say, "I look forward to getting home
and asking my spouse a bunch of open and closed probes!" Imagine your spouse responding with,
"Honey, I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask me so many closed probes, please ask me more open
probes." Sounds a little ridiculous, I agree. My point is this: Why be guided by a mechanical, clinical
approach to probing during the day, then take a relaxed, more natural social approach with friends and
family. Adapt one simple, consistent approach that accommodates both business and social
interactions. You will feel a lot more confident and relaxed in both kinds of interactions.

How often has your sales manager questioned you about open or closed probes? I've yet to hear a
sales manager ask, "Sounds like you had a great call. Congratulations. Tell me, how many open and
closed probes did you ask?" Who cares! As if we don't have enough to think about during a sales call.
The point is you closed the sale with a win-win solution.

I appreciate that my probing approach may be unconventional, but it's proving to be a simple, less
stressful approach and is certainly appreciated by my customers. It's a refreshing change for both

In their unbridled enthusiasm or nervousness, salespeople often overlook an important aspect of the
discovery stage”asking permission to ask questions. Asking permission can be as simple as, "Ms.
Smith, we've been able to help hundreds of companies with various training solutions. We may be able
to help you. I don't know if we can or not but to determine that, may I ask you a few questions?"
Alternatively, you might ask, "To make the best use of our time today I'd like to ask you a few
questions. Would you mind?" By asking permission, you help relax the situation. Your customer
becomes a willing participant in the task of finding a possible solution that makes life a little easier.

Once you have their permission (which will be 99.9% of the time), you now have license to proceed with
a series of planned, well-thought-out questions. The secrets to a smooth and speedy close are often
contained in the answers. Your customer's answers help pinpoint the area where you may be able to
help them. It's like a game. Questions unlock the secrets to closing the sale; ask the right questions,
get the right information, and present the right solution. The quality of your questions and your
confidence to ask them in a logical, fluid sequence is what demonstrates to the potential customer that
you are a competent professional.

Tim Commandment #5
Use quality questions to unlock the secrets to confirming more sales.
Ask: Am I asking enough smart questions? Do I understand their needs and expectations?

As the questioning proceeds, your customer is drawn more and more into the conversation because
answering demands total attention. The average person speaks at approximately 130 words per minute,
but can think at approximately 1,000 words per minute. While you are talking (feature dumping) it's very
easy for the customer to listen as well as think about other things including possible objections,
problems at work or home, an argument with the teenager last night, missing a Visa payment, or the
prediction of rain for tomorrow's 2:30 tee-off time. Questions minimize mental drift and help keep control
of the sales call. The longer you talk, the more opportunity the customer has to drift into another world.
However, the instant you ask a question the customer snaps back to the conversation and refocuses on
you. Control lies with the person asking the questions. Your goal is to do more listening than talking.
As long as you're talking, you're going to hear stuff you already know. Think about it. To learn, you must
be silent and listen. By the way, silent and listen contain the same letters and I find it interesting that
ear is found in learn and earn.

Your needs analysis will reveal one of three possible scenarios. The customer is aware of your product
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but is currently using the competition and is not interested in you; the customer is unfamiliar with your
product and shows no interest; or the customer is unaware of your product but expresses an interest.
The latter is what I call creating demand”introducing a product or service never used before by an
existing or a potential customer. Demand is created by understanding the customers' needs and
presenting the product or service as a benefit to their business. Customers are always on the lookout
for a competitive edge. The introduction of your product or service just might help to achieve that
competitive edge. However, you must appreciate that even though you created the initial demand, the
customer may invite your competition to present their product for comparative reasons and to validate
the legitimacy of the new product or service.

Of the three possible scenarios, the first one is most common: A customer has a need but is currently
using a competitor. Thus, your goal is to ask carefully planned questions that encourage the customer
to review the performance of an existing supplier. Your questions may reveal some instances of poor
service or quality. Through this tactful method you do not criticize your competitor; your customer does.

Some authors suggest that selling is a "hurt and rescue" business. Find the hurt, uncover the pain,
discover the problem, and come to the rescue. This concept suggests that the customer has been living
with an intolerable situation and that your product or service will provide instant relief from all suffering.
Sales representatives buy into this concept thinking customers are suffering from a gaping wound that
only their product or service will heal. Wrong! The reality is that your potential customer is doing just
fine without you or your remedy for instant relief. The challenge is to discover an inconvenience or
dissatisfaction that the customer is experiencing with their existing vendor, and then provide a solution
that resolves it. Even though the customer is somewhat satisfied, your solution must focus on
alleviating the inconvenience. Otherwise, why would they switch to you? They won't.

An inconvenience is a situation that is less than ideal, but your customer is prepared to tolerate it. The
customer may feel that fixing it may not be worth the effort, or a different vendor might make things
worse. I suggest that it may only be an inconvenience because as I mentioned earlier, your competition
mirrors approximately 90% or more of your features so you know they are doing a pretty good job
servicing the customer. Very few products or services are perceived as providing a unique advantage.

Differences between competitors are much more subtle today than perhaps even five years ago. Today
we sell in an intensely competitive marketplace. Enhanced competition, pressures to differentiate and
global impact have made even the best features and benefits temporary as well as tenuous. Often the
customer is left struggling to sort out the differences. Remember, your customers buy from you based
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on less than 5% of your features. Unfortunately, price becomes the easiest and quickest way for a
customer to validate differences between competitors and justify a purchase. That's why price gets the
attention it does.

By asking a series of smart, well-thought-out questions, customers will reveal clues as to the features
that will satisfy the sale. Just as in baking or cooking, there must be the right mix of ingredients
(features) to produce the desired results.
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Feature Fishing
Now it's time to go fishing. Just hang on, I don't mean taking the day off to head out to your favorite
fishing hole. I'm referring to fishing right in the customer's office, verbal casting. Bait the conversation
with questions that reveal the customer's needs, expectations, and hot-buttons. Although you have
done your pre-call planning on the macro issues, you cannot learn intimate knowledge of your
customer's business until you engage in a conversation. During this conversation your objective is to
fish around to discover the features on your menu that may be of interest.

I offer two methods of feature fishing: 1) Simply ask your customer what's important when considering a
supplier. What specifics is he or she looking for? What are his or her expectations? What makes a
good vendor? 2) Suggest some of your more popular features by scrolling through your menu. Ask the
customer: "Have you thought about... ?" "Have you considered . . . ?" "Did you know that . . . ?" "Have
you ever used ... ?" and so on. It's the same as your server in a restaurant recommending daily
specials. The answers to your probes help identify specific requirements, information you wouldn't glean
from an annual report or the receptionist. Personally, I prefer a combination of the two methods.
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Effective Bridging
Once you have identified the appropriate features and the hot-buttons, it's time to bridge. Bridging
occurs when you link the feature to the benefit. Each feature offers several potential benefits that must
be explained in detail for the customer to fully appreciate it as a benefit. In the end, the customer
decides if the feature is in fact a benefit. Remember, customers buy benefits, not features. Features on
their own represent the so-what information I spoke of earlier. Don't feature dump.

Although this book is not about scripts and rigid steps to follow, I do suggest you consider this very
short, succinct script while you get comfortable with bridging, "The benefit to you is ..." These five words
verbally initiate the bridge, taking a feature to a benefit. Once the feature is bridged to a benefit, confirm
its acceptance by asking, "Do you see this (feature) as a benefit to you and your business?" If your
customer agrees, you have successfully bridged the feature and anchored it as a benefit. The following
diagram illustrates bridging.

The above illustration represents the three steps of effective bridging.
Step 1: In conversation with your customer, features
#2, #5 and #7 were identified as hot-buttons,
relevant features. The other features proved
to be of little interest, so-what information.
Continue to verbally scroll your menu until
you have identified three or four features of
Step 2: Bridge appropriate features using the
statement, "The benefit to you is ..." This
statement ensures your customer is
thinking in terms of benefits. Go on to
explain the benefits of the feature in terms of
your customer's specific requirements and
how the benefits relate to his or her needs.
Step 3: Validate the customer's acceptance of the
benefits by asking, "Do you see this
(feature) as a benefit?" If yes, you have

Bridging is a fundamental ingredient of a successful call. When followed, the three steps eliminate the
monotony of feature dumping, identify a tailored solution, shorten the sales cycle and show customers
how you can help their business. Benefits sell, features tell.
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Inverse Bridging
Inverse bridging occurs when you start with a benefit and bridge it back to the supporting feature. This
approach says to the customer, "This is what we can do for you (benefit) and this is how we do it
(feature)." This is an excellent strategy to make a telephone appointment, to create demand in a new or


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