The best question I learned for sales….From the most unlikely of places

I have been around many great sales professionals in my career and have learned many valuable lessons.  I try my best, when around these great professionals, to soak up as much information as I can so that I can continue to fill my arsenal of selling ammunition.  I try to learn what questions I can ask, how to ask them and when, in order to better walk prospects through the selling process and uncover reasons why we might do business.  The best question I have ever learned was ” Do you currently have a budget for this?”  However, this question, and its importance wasn’t taught to me by some sales guru.  Not even close.  Let me just paint you a little picture.

When I met Shaun, he had been an Assistant Manager for Gold’s Gym for a few years.  He was the definition of a grinder.  Shaun would go out for hours on end, handing out passes, taking paper agreements to malls and Walmart’s, anywhere he could to sign up new members.  I once remember scheduling a sales calling block, for calling referrals.  Shaun, being the creative grinder he was, duct taped the hand set of the phone to his head (just think about a regular office phone) and then fashioned a loop on the back of the base so that he could loop his belt through it.  When I walked in and saw him, I’m sure I had a puzzled look on my face.  Shaun simply smiled and said, “Well, now I don’t have to hang up the phone every time I dial a new number.  This will save me lots of time in between phone calls!”  What a guy…..

One day while giving a tour to a potential new member, I watched Shaun go through some questions, then abruptly got up, shook the couples hand and escorted them to the door.  I asked him what happened and he simply shrugged and said they weren’t a fit.  Two days later, the same thing.  I finally sat Shaun down and asked him why he kept turning so many people away before even touring the facility.  “They’re broke”, he said.  I didn’t understand so I pushed a little.  “Shaun, how do you know these people are broke, you barely speak to them”, I asked.  His statement was so matter of fact and simple.  “I ask them if they have a budget for a gym membership.  If they say no, I tell them thank you and ask them to come back when they have the gym worked into their budget.  It isn’t cheap to have a gym membership Jon.”  He continued, “On top of that man, I’m not going to waste my time on someone who can’t afford to pay for our services.  I have other prospects that have a budget that might actually join.”

Today, this advice still resonates with me.  Almost more than ever now.  You see, I would spend hours with new member prospects, touring the gym, discussing personal training and all the different options we had for memberships, all to find out that they really didn’t have the money to purchase a membership at my facility.  Many walk ins would come and go, working with other membership consultants and I would still be with the prospects who never intended to join.  When I started in sales, I was willing to meet and present pricing to anyone and everyone.  It didn’t matter how big or small the solution, I sat with my customer and presented my product or solution, and was proud of all of the time and effort I put into my pitch.  The problem was, I would spend hours and hours on my pitch and the solution for the customer, to find out that the customer didn’t have it in their budget to even fix the problem, or that the solution was way more expensive than what the customer was willing to spend.

As I continued to grow as a sales professional, the words from Shaun started to have more and more meaning for me.  I began talking with customers, finding pain and discussing our next steps as usual, but then started asking one more question.  “Do you have a budget for this?” or “Is there a budget that you are needing to stay within for this project?”  Based on how the potential customer answered, determined my next steps.

You see, I began realizing that my time as a sales professional was valuable.  I needed to be focusing on customers that had the budget to work with my company and purchase my products or solutions.  If they didn’t, then we would agree to part ways at the moment until the problem they had started to cost them more.  Just like in the gym, sometime people won’t join right away because the cost isn’t high enough.  They aren’t that over weight, or sick etc. so the need isn’t there.  The same for anything in sales.  A potential customer that has an issue that needs to be resolved, has to see the value in fixing the issue.  If the cost of fixing the issue is higher than the cost not to, it might not be that important yet.

Asking if the customer has a budget can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend with customers that have no money, or no intention to buy.  You can begin to qualify your customer in this way to insure that you are spending your time more appropriately.  Your time is valuable, so begin selling like it.

Don’t just be a sales professional.  Be a professional at sales.



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