‘Anxiety questions’ can help you get sales unstuck
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  • Blog post

‘Anxiety questions’ can help you get sales unstuck

A sales rep was trying to get a meeting at a hot new company. When he called the CEO’s office for an appointment, the administrative assistant told him not to waste his time.

The assistant said, “He’s not taking any appointments unless they’re directly related to the IPO”– the initial public offering that was just a few weeks away.

The rep could have waited until things quieted down. Instead, he sensed an opportunity.

He called his stockbroker and asked for an analysis of the prospect’s planned IPO. Reports suggested that the stock would be in trouble by the end of the year unless the company showed it could penetrate new market segments.

The next day, the rep showed up in the company’s lobby just before lunchtime. Sure enough, the CEO walked past a few minutes later.

The courage to annoy
The sales rep approached him, introduced himself, and asked for a meeting. Visibly annoyed, the CEO kept walking and instructed the rep to call his assistant to set up an appointment.

The rep took a deep breath and replied, “Okay, but I was wondering … what will be the impact on your stock price if you don’t penetrate new market segments?”

The CEO stopped and said, “Is that something you can help us with?”

“Absolutely,” the rep answered.

His lunch plans forgotten, the CEO sat down in the lobby for a 25-minute meeting.

That’s the power of the “anxiety question” – a needle-sharp probe that goes right to the heart of a customer’s deepest concerns. The anxiety question is intended to rattle a person and prod him or her into action. It’s an ace in your pocket, not something to be used every day.

It’s best applied when the sales process is stuck and you need to get it moving – for example, if you’ve been unable to set up an appointment, get a phone call returned, or motivate a prospective buyer to make a decision.

Here are some examples:

  • “What will happen to your department if you continue to lose market share at the current rate?”
  • “How will management respond if you don’t meet this year’s goal?”
  • “Who will be held accountable if your production line breaks down and you can’t get the parts to fix it?”

Anxiety questions don’t work unless they’re sincere. There’s a line between identifying legitimate anxieties and fear-mongering.

Key elements
A good anxiety question goes far beyond the generic doom-and-gloom pitches we’re exposed to every day:

It’s personal. Even when it’s framed in business terms, an effective anxiety question highlights a prospect’s personal motivation for taking action. For example, when the rep asked about stock prices, he was really asking the CEO: “How much will you personally lose – in stock options, bonuses, reputation, job security – if you can’t convince Wall Street that your stock is solid?”

It’s knowledgeable. It creates instant credibility. It shows you’ve done your homework, and you really get it.

It’s dark. The anxiety question is almost always some variation of “What would happen if…?” The more dire the consequences, the more powerful the question.

It’s specific. It’s carefully tailored to the prospect’s or customer’s reality. When the rep talked about stock prices and market penetration, he used the exact words the CEO was hearing from Wall Street.

Source: Julie Thomas, President and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, www.valueselling.com.

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