by Steven Tulman
ICM Consulting and Media Corp.
March 20, 2014
This stage is extremely important and should NEVER be overlooked or rushed through. Getting the basics of this stage correct will help you make more sales by ensuring that you fully understand what your prospect's core challenges are and that they see the urgency behind solving these challenges.
Use the insights that I shared in my previous article about How to Make a Powerful Sales Presentation and then apply the Needs Discovery process below.
Here is my take on the very helpful SPIN questions developed by Neil Rackham in the late 1980’s with an updated twist and a few added probing questions to help you better understand your prospect's buying motivators and position them for the sale. The acronym that I use is B-CHUBS which stands for questions probing about the prospect's Background, Challenges, History of Critical Events, Urgency, Benefits, and Solution. These 6 types of questions, primarily open-ended, will really help you guide your prospect on the emotional journey to making the decision to buy from you.
I’ve kept the questions generic so that they can be applied to any industry. It is up to you to tailor these questions using specific information that your prospect provides you with and terminology relevant to your product and industry.
B: Background Questions
Getting your prospect to open up about the background of their companies and themselves is the first step to understanding their businesses, personalities and buying motivators. This will help you establish the trust needed to continue with the needs analysis.
Here are some questions you could ask to get your prospect talking about their backgrounds:
“I’ve done some basic research on your company and feel I have a pretty good idea about it’s background, but I’d really love to get a better understanding from you. Could you please tell me a bit about yourself, your role and your company?”
“What are some of your company's goals over the next year or two?”
“What are you currently doing that’s working well for you?”
“Are there any areas where you see opportunities for improvement?”
“Here’s what many of my customers in your industry are telling me… Can you relate to this in your business or role?”
“Tell me more about that please.” (Yes this is a statement, that when used correctly, and feel free to use it often, can open up the floodgates to your prospect's thoughts and feelings.)
Asking background questions is important to do first because it does not put your prospect into a defensive position and warms them up for deeper, more invasive questions. This stage of questioning shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to go through.
C: Challenge Questions
This is where your prospect really starts opening up to you and where you want to spend the bulk of your time during your Needs Analysis stage. Here you want to bring out their most pressing challenges (pain points) to the surface and dig deep – and I mean deep into the underlying issues that revolve around these core challenges. When done right, you will be able to expose the issues that your prospect has in the specific areas where your service or product can help them. In turn this will help you formulate the most effective way to position your value proposition later on in your sales process.
Here are the types of questions that are most helpful:
“What are some of the challenges that you are currently facing or see yourself facing in the future?”
“What do you find most challenging when trying to deal with those challenges?”
“When did you start experiencing these challenges?”
“Which ones are most important for you and the business to solve right now?”
“Could you rank them in order of importance?”
“What makes these challenges so important to solve?”
“How have you tried to address these challenges up to now?”
“Do you currently have anyone working on this for you? If so, what are they doing and how effective are you finding them to be?”
"What would you want to see done differently?"
When you master the art of asking Challenge Questions you will be able to get your prospect to tell you what challenges they face that are of the utmost importance to them and the business. As you continue with the Needs Analysis you will be able to determine that these challenges are in fact worth solving and that your product or service is the right choice for your prospect. By asking the right questions in the right order, your prospect will soon come to the same realizations.
H: History of Critical Events Questions
Now that you’ve drawn out the most serious challenges that your prospect is facing, it’s time to understand what triggered the need to look at solving these challenges in a different way. This is a much shorter stage of the Needs Analysis, but will help your prospect, and you, understand why the status quo isn’t good enough for them anymore. This is also a great lead into the next part of questions, the Urgency Questions.
Here are a few questions to help you draw out the History of Critical Events:
“How were things different before these challenges developed?”
“What transpired to bring these challenges to the top of the list now?”
“What’s different now that makes these challenges so critical to solve?”
U: Urgency Questions
Now that you understand the history behind what triggered these challenges to rise to the top of your prospect's priority list, you are ready to build and explore their need to solving these challenges now. Here you will be asking questions that explore the negative impact that not addressing the challenges could have on the business and on your prospect’s career.
Formulate your Urgency Questions around the following:
“How soon are you looking to have these challenges addressed?”
“How have these challenges affected your business?”
“How have these challenges affected your role?”
“If these challenges are not addressed in the immediate future how could it negatively impact the business or your department?”
“Could you quantify the negative impact it is having, and will continue to have with every passing month, quarter, or year?” or “How much money is the business loosing by not addressing these issues and how does that affect your quota or budget?”
“If you let this challenge live on, how could that impact you and your career?”
At this point you should have built enough urgency by determining what are the challenges that are worth solving for your prospect and why they need to solve them a.s.a.p.
B: Benefit Questions
After successfully helping your prospect open up to you with the urgency they have to solving their problems, it’s time to paint a picture in their minds of what positive outcomes could occur if they were to implement a viable solution to their core challenges. To do this you need to walk them through the emotional journey by asking the right Benefit Questions.
Try some of these questions out:
“If we could solve your challenge today, how much additional revenue do you stand to gain, or how much costs and resources do you stand to save?”
“How much closer would it bring you to hitting your targets?"
“Would you receive positive recognition from your management team or shareholders by solving your challenges in the next month or two?”
“How could your position in the organization benefit from this kind of turnaround?”
"What would it mean for your career?"
“How could this positively impact your life outside of work?”
These questions are meant to stir up positive emotions around finding an immediate solution to their most burning challenges. Remember, buying decisions are made based on emotion more so than anything else.
S: Solution Questions
Finally, what better way to help your customer make a buying decision than to get them to tell you why a service like yours would be a good choice for them. Use these Solution Questions, but plant the specific examples of what you can do for them without saying “this is what I can do for you”, to help you tailor your product or service demo around your prospect’s desires. This could also help you prepare for objections down the road:
“How could a solution that would involve or provide you with USE EXAMPLES OF FEATURES OF YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE be an effective way to solving your current challenges?”
“What would be the best way to implement this kind of solution?”
“If this solution can be implemented within X timeframe, how much would that benefit you?” (You can rephrase this by using the information provided to you in the urgency stage and say something along the lines of “Based on what you told me, this is costing you $XXXXX per month. So if the solution takes 2 months to implement, you will start saving $XXXXX by May, June, July, etc.”)
“What other benefits could you see coming from this kind of solution?”
Now you should be armed with enough information to deliver a perfectly tailored product or service demonstration in the next stage of the process. Having built up enough urgency around solving your prospect's challenges, and by receiving so much specific information from your prospect, you should be able to formulate a highly targeted value proposition that will make it tough for them to refuse your offer (provided that your quotation isn’t completely out of reach). Even if it is more expensive than other products out there, if you’ve built up enough urgency in your prospect's mind during this stage, then you will have a much easier time building the right amount of value during the next stage of the game. This sense of urgency combined with a stellar value proposition will help position you to better handle objections on sticking points such as pricing.
I'd love to hear some of your experiences with performing a Needs Analysis and what has and hasn't worked for you in the past.