Selling to SMBs: ‘Layering the Question’ to Get the Answers You Need

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Layered rainbow colored pyramidAs a sales rep, it can be tough to get the answers you need about the decision-making process to determine if a sale will close. Sometimes, decision-makers are unavailable to talk; other times, they may even be unwilling to provide you with important information. Regardless of whether your potential client chooses to buy your product or not, it is still important to obtain information regarding how they made their decision.

Sales reps should always want as much additional information about the decision-making process as they can get, because they can use that information to show value to other customers. For example, if you do not know what specific aspect of your product helped to “sell” a particular client on your product, you may be missing out on an important selling point. Worse yet, if you do not listen to client objections related to your product or service, you may be incapable of improving sales efforts in the future.

A great solution to this common problem is to layer the question: Rather than asking a question and jumping straight into a sales pitch, layer the question by following up with more direct questions regarding their decision. Layering the question will elicit a stronger response by probing further into the client’s thought process.

By targeting your questions based on their responses, you can get the person that you are speaking with to open up and expand on their answers. These additional insights will help you to improve your sales pitch and help you avoid costly potential objections in the future. Most importantly, by asking the client questions, you can obtain information about the client’s pain points, which will help you to highlight relevant benefits offered by your company.

Depending on your product or service, the questions may very. However, the process is always the same. To start layering the question, there are two important questions to consider:

  1. What information do I need to close?
  2. What questions can I ask in order to get the information from them?

When you enter a small business and speak with the decision-maker, start off by asking a question related to the information you need to close (for example, if you need to know about small businesses and social media, you could ask, “do you use Facebook/Twitter?”). Upon their response, ask the decision-maker about how they came to that conclusion, how they use the product/service to meet their goals, how they feel about the product/service or their overall opinion of the product/service.

A simple example of this would be to first ask the business owner how they accomplish Goal X. Next, follow up by asking the business owners what made them decide to do it in that way and how they feel about it. This is a simple way to uncover pain points and discover potential client needs/values. However, most cases will not be so simple. Here are some more complex examples of layering the question.

Example #1: During a needs analysis, you are talking with Susan, the owner of Susan’s Salon and Spa. Susan just mentioned that she has a Facebook page — what should you do? Ask her some questions about her Facebook page to learn more. Here are some examples:

  • How are you currently using your Facebook page?
  • How do you get people to like your page?
  • What do you promote on your Facebook page?
  • How do you currently market your Facebook page?
  • How effective are your current Facebook marketing efforts?

Example #2: During a needs analysis, you are talking to Joe, a restaurant owner, and he just mentioned that he runs a weekly ad in the newspaper. What should you do? Ask him questions about his ads in the newspaper. Here are some examples:

  • Why did you decide to run an ad in that newspaper?
  • How many customers were you expecting to generate?
  • How many customers have you generated?
  • How are you tracking which customers came from the ad?
  • How much did you invest in the newspaper?
  • What would you like to change about it?

Example #3: On a cold call, you are talking to a restaurant owner who mentions that they are slow during the week. What should you do? Ask him questions about restaurant traffic during the week. Here are some examples:

  • How long have you been slow during the week?
  • How many more customers can you handle each week?
  • How is being slow during the week effecting you?
  • What have you tried to bring more customers in?

When it comes to being a sales rep, understanding your client only comes second to understanding the product. While all sales reps understand how to sell a product, only the top 20% of all sales reps understand how to sell the client on their product. The top 20% can sell products to their clients because they know how to layer the question. Layering helps top sales professionals get to their client’s real pain points and values faster than any sales pitch ever could. By layering the question, you can uncover important insights into their decision-making process, which can help you close more sales in the future.

geoff michenerGeoffrey Michener is the co-founder of ProspectWise. ProspectWise gathers small business information directly from the physical location, not from online sources where accurate small business data is unavailable due to their limited digital footprint. ProspectWise’s massive crowdsourced workforce canvases streets and neighborhoods to collect and verify valuable business intelligence that fuels small business vendors’ marketing and sales channels.