Customer-Centric Selling: 8 Deeper Questions to Ask to Understand Your Buyer

I once was on the phone with a client who was describing his sales organization to me and he said something that caught my attention: “My people have gotten robotic. They come right out and ask how many seats the prospect has. They don’t even start with asking about their business’ pain points or priorities. We have to find a more eloquent way of driving a conversation without shoving a deal down their throat. We have to start focusing on customer-centric selling.”

With the competition in the market and the increase in personalization, knowing your buyer is more important than ever. But while most companies understand that they need to increase their personalization efforts, few are taking steps to improve their actual interactions with prospects – especially in the sales department.

For early stage prospects, companies have trained Lead Development Representatives and Inside Sales specialists to follow a script and make as many calls as possible in a day – and they’ve completely missed the mark. Buyer-centric selling is not about quantity, it’s about quality. And it starts by asking questions with the goal of understanding your buyer – not selling to them.

Where we are today

We’ve all heard them, and most companies have their own version of the following acronyms: CHAMP, BANT, FAINT, ANUM. These acronyms have traditionally been used to guide sales conversations and qualify buyers, but regardless of the term, the common denominator is that they’re all sales first, buyer second. Most of these acronyms ask questions like:

  1. Do you have the budget to fund this project, or are you still working to build the business case?
  2. Are you looking to implement this solution in the next 6 months?
  3. Is this project coming out of your budget, or are there other players involved?
  4. What’s caused you to be in the market for this product/solution?

I’m not suggesting that these questions hold no value; in fact, I’m stating just the opposite, they’re key questions to ask a qualified buyer. But, how can we shift our language to make the conversation more meaningful? More importantly, how can we frame a conversation that convinces our buyer that we understand who they are and how we can help? In other words – how can we become customer-centric sellers?

Where we should be

There’s a set of guidelines we like to follow at ANNUITAS when we kick off any new project to steer how we understand customers and prospects. Our objective is to get a complete picture of the buyer, rather than a narrow view of what’s led them to a specific product or solution.

We start by asking buyers questions around the following topics:

  1. What trends and/or regulations are affecting the way you do your job?
  2. What’s the most difficult aspect of your job? What keeps you up at night?
  3. What does your research process look like? Where do you typically start?
  4. Who do you consult with when conducting research and making a decision to adopt a new solution?
  5. What are the trigger events that put you into an active buying process?
  6. Are you proactively looking for the latest and greatest solutions for your business, or are you reactively in the market because of a problem you’ve recently encountered?
  7. What sources do you trust? Peers? Online networks?
  8. What information is most helpful as you’re researching new solutions?

These types of questions will help you truly understand the problem your buyer is trying to solve by using your product or service. Once you understand their motivations, you can focus on customer-centric selling and create content that resonates, serve it via channels that your buyers are actively participating in, and respond with an informed conversation, greatly improving your chances of creating a quality opportunity. In other words, you stop committing random acts of sales and marketing and instead, start to generate predictable, repeatable patterns of demand.

But while the questions above are great examples to help get you started, the key to any successful conversation with a buyer is having the ability to pivot. If you’re intending to walk into a meeting with this scripted list of questions, you’re going to walk out disappointed. Use this list as a guide to keep in your back pocket, but be intentional, be flexible, be genuine.

You exist to serve a need. Take the time to find out what the need is and use it to influence the conversations you have with your prospects so that you can focus on customer-centric selling. Not sure how to get started? We can help.

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