How you can use ‘impact questions’ to make more sales
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How you can use ‘impact questions’ to make more sales

When a prospect complains about a current vendor, it’s like sounding an alarm. He’s telling you that the relationship is bad for his company. And inviting you, indirectly, to show why you’d be better.

Unfortunately, many salespeople have no idea what to do, says sales guru Paul Cherry. They start blabbering about how great their product is. Or they badmouth the vendor, thinking the prospect wants empathy. These responses don’t work.

But here’s a technique that will work just about every time if you do it right. It takes thought. It takes preparation. And it takes skill. It’s based on the assumption that when a customer signals unhappiness with a current vendor, what he is really doing is asking you to initiate an exploratory process that will help him understand why he’s unhappy, and make him feel totally comfortable switching to you.

All about consequences
The idea is to use “impact questions” to get buyers focused on the consequences of their current course of action.

Of course, most buyers are well aware of the problems they’re facing. That’s why you’re there in the first place. But the more you can get them to dwell on those problems – and what’s at stake – the more urgency you create for them to change course.

Here’s an example:

Prospect: Our vendor missed a shipment of 10,000 bathing suits – some stores were without the suits for four weeks.

Seller: Help me understand what effect that had on your company.

Prospect: We missed half the swimsuit season. We had empty racks in our stores.

Seller: And let’s see … a swimsuit costs…?

Prospect: $30. Instead of selling 10,000, we sold only 2,500.

Seller: So you lost $225,000 in revenue?

Prospect: That’s about right.

Seller: How much does a customer spend on a typical visit?

Prospect: About $200. They come in for a swimsuit, but end up buying sneakers, soap or something else.

Seller: Gartner Group says 20% of customers leave if they can’t find the thing they came in for. So what’s your estimate of how many people walked away with nothing during that four-week period?

Prospect: 2,000.

Seller: So 2,000 times $200, that’s another $400,000 in lost revenue, right?

Prospect: Come to think of it, yeah.

Seller: So this one incident cost you $625,000. Does that sound right?

Prospect: Yes.

A closer look
Let’s examine what the seller did. First, she never mentioned her product. Second, she never bad-mouthed the other vendor. Her strategy was to ask Impact Questions that allowed the prospect to focus on the full cost of doing business with a bad vendor.

Here’s the key insight: The prospect might not have really understood how badly this vendor was hurting his business. Or even if he did know, he hadn’t really focused on the consequences.

This prospect, like yours, probably had too much on his plate to do a full analysis. He may have been facing political pressures to keep the bad vendor. He may have been dreading the process of finding a new one. Or focused on the risks of a new vendor more than the costs of the old one.

Our seller gave him everything he needed: The ammunition to argue for change; the motivation to make the change – and, of course, the perfect vendor to replace the old one.

Source: Adapted from “Questions That Sell.” To learn more from Paul Cherry, visit

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