In a previous article, I categorized the probing skill as the most overlooked of the three selling skills: probing, proving, and closing. Probing is asking the questions before giving the answers. It’s listening to what the customer says, thinking about that in relation to your own products and sales environment, asking follow-up questions and listening again, repeat. You never stop probing, you only do less of it as you learn more and are able to use that knowledge to move through the sales cycle.
Many sales people are reluctant to ask the questions, maybe thinking it shows their ignorance or something. And even those who do ask often don’t listen to the answers and think about them and react accordingly. They have accumulated information, but they haven’t gained any knowledge. It’s like hearing the weather forecast. If you don’t get your umbrella, it is useless information.
A demonstration is usually a proving step, showing how your product fits the customer’s needs. To do that, you must know their needs, and thus the probing steps that come before a demo. But what if you used the demo as a tool to probe? Properly handled, it can work very well.
Getting a customer’s attention, especially for a live, direct, two-way conversation, is always a challenge. In this time of voicemail and emails and texts and every other electronic communication, these interactions are the gold standard of your sales cycle. They are to be coveted, and they must be used to their best advantage because they don’t come along often. For them to be their most effective, the customer has to be interested and engaged, and a demo is just the ticket for that because they get a reward for their time and attention – an early look at your product that progresses them in their buying cycle.
Here are some keys to the probing demo:
- Don’t move off of your simple opening screen before you’ve started and completed the conversation. Keep them focused on the conversation, not the display.
- Ask a benign question to get the customer talking about their business. Use their answer to probe deeper. Business people like to talk about their business once you’ve made them comfortable.
- Know the crucial information that you need and listen for it. Use customer’s answers to steer the conversation where you want it to go.
- Find their major pain point(s) and be sure to briefly show a solution in the demo when you get to it.
- Keep the actual demo short and cover only the basic points that interest the customer. Save your ammunition for the real demo in the probing phase.
- Close by asking if you have addressed their initial needs and then establish and schedule the next step.
And remember to control yourself and resist the temptation to show too much, too soon. Just as you’ve made the customer confortable with your questions, he has made you comfortable with your presentation by listening with interest and telling you stuff. Have a definite cutoff in mind and stick to it.