Better Questions for Conversing and Closing with Economic Buyers

How do I get a foot in the door?

First, find anyone at the target company that you know. Use online and offline sources to see who they might know. You want people that have authority to spend $25K or more without approval. This is your market.

Someone you know might be a link, but do not feel the need to overplay your hand or reveal too much with these people. For heaven’s sake, do NOT give them a proposal to pass up to their boss. You will never get that work.

Your friend may be a nice person, but they are not your peer. Your peer is the economic buyer – those with the cash and authority to pay you. Here are some questions you can ask your friend or acquaintance about the situation inside their company to see if there are opportunities or which people to request introductions to.

Do NOT use all of these, either. You are not interrogating them; in fact, you should probably consider anything more than you talking more than about 20% of the time a failure. Use the questions to open dialogue and learn about the organization. Only do the minimum conversing needed at this point in order to get the introductions.

BetterQuestions for this stage include:

  1. What might make this organization a good match?
  2. Is there a budget allocated for this?
  3. Has this been tried before? Why didn’t it work?
  4. How important is this need, on a scale of 1 to 10?
  5. What is the timeline for this work?
  6. Who is driving the need for this work to be done?
  7. When should the work start?
  8. Is there money committed to start, or is this still in analysis?
  9. How does this organization (or this person) choose a person to work with? What are the criteria?
  10. Are there others being considered for the work, informally or formally?

Find the Buyer

The following questions will help you determine if you are sitting down with, or on the phone with, the person who can actually write you a check. Use these questions to filter out those who are big talkers, but have little clout. Don’t burn bridges with them, and be professional, as you are likely to be assigned to work with them once the real buyer pays the bill.

  1. Whose budget is paying for this work?
  2. Who is the person who could approve this today?
  3. When this work goes well, who will people look to for leadership, encouragement and support? Who will people watch to see if this work is credible?
  4. Who has leadership over the people and budget to get this started?
  5. Who made the request to start the work, or to speak with me?
  6. Who owns the outcomes or results of the work we will do?
  7. Who will be the lead champion and supporter of this work?
  8. Is there any other approval needed?
  9. Who decides on proposals? What are the criteria?
  10. If we shake hands, can we start tomorrow morning?

BetterQuestions for Handling Objections

Objections are a great sign. It means you have a relevant offer, and the buyer is considering you against other people, or against doing the work themselves. Use the intent behind the question to find out reasons behind thoughts and feelings. As the expert it is your job to help people make decisions in their own best interests, even when at first they are a bit resistant.

You might ask things like:

  1. Why do you feel that way?
  2. What experiences have led you to believe that?
  3. If we can get past this point, will we be ready to begin work?
  4. If not now…when?
  5. Well, isn’t this the very reason you need me?
  6. What would be a good enough response to help us get past that point?
  7. What can we do to work through this?
  8. Wouldn’t this be true regardless of whether you choose to work with me or not?
  9. What is the real consequence of this point? Does it really matter?
  10. Does that have a very high probability?
  11. Could I address that point in the proposal?
  12. Given the return and results, will that even matter?

BetterQuestions for Establishing Outcomes

In these conversations, your work is to establish the points from which you will deliver value. There are generally three categories of value. The first is functional – this is what they want to do with the business. This is what they pay for. The second is social – this is what needs to happen in order to support people to achieve the business outcomes. They usually need this, but don’t always see the need or want to pay for it. They will pay for some of this. The third is personal – they want to experience something themselves, and by achieving this business goal, their personal goals happen too. They won’t want to pay for this, and you don’t need to charge them for it, but you can show them the value of this in the proposal you send.

Here are some BetterQuestions to help you find out these three layers of value.

  1. What is the ideal outcome you’d like to experience?
  2. What results are you trying to achieve?
  3. How would this change your relationship with your customers and clients?
  4. Why do you want to do this work?
  5. How would your division / business / unit be improved as a result of us doing this work?
  6. What kind of return on investment would you be seeking for this work?
  7. How would your reputation and that of the business be improved when this goes well?
  8. What pain will go away if we achieve what we aim to?
  9. What kind of advantage would you have in the market if we achieve our goals?
  10. How would customers and clients 9and maybe employees) view you differently if this went well?

BetterQuestions for Measuring what Matters

In my humble but correct opinion, measurements ONLY tell us whether we are doing a good enough job of providing leadership, tools and support for people doing the job. After all, as leaders, we put people into the position, created the expectations, purchased the tools or computer systems and set the place up. All the employee brings with them is a prior skillset and a chosen attitude – and these change based on what leaders provide.

Remember, people do NOT drive to work intending to look bad and fail. The outcomes they sometimes get suggest otherwise, but it is true. It is incumbent on leaders to own the engagement of their people, which result from leadership communication, support and provision of correct tools to do the job.

Questions to establish the right kinds of measures are:

  1. How will we know we have achieved your intent?
  2. How will the operations and processes be different when we are done?
  3. What will clients, customers and employees experience when we are done? How will this be captured?
  4. What kinds of things might indicate things are moving in the right direction?
  5. How will we report on progress – who or what will do this?
  6. Are there measures already in place you want to apply?
  7. What rate of return would you like to see?
  8. Every time we meet, what criteria will suggest progress is being made?
  9. How would you know it if it slapped you in the face?

Better Questions for Determining Value

In conversation with a buyer, their employees or clients and customers of the services, you will need to ascertain sources of value for those involved. There may be initial answers that are canned, vague and ‘book answers’ these people will give, yet further probing will reveal more value. Understanding as much value as you can increases the perception of what they get, increases your price, and differentiates you from the crowd.

Ask the following in conversations with people to go deeper. It’s important to get specifics even for non-financial items – settling for vague answers lowers your fee. Knowing precisely what will be delivered increases the fee.

  1. What will achieving our goals mean for you, and for the organization?
  2. How will the results be assessed? What existing measures are in place that we can use as starting points?
  3. What should be the extent of our improvement goals?
  4. If we achieved the goals we have stated, how would it help with the profitability or productivity of the organization?
  5. What are the annualized profits or savings if we achieve our goals?
  6. What non-financial impacts could we look at? Absenteeism, engagement, turnover, safety, reputation or net promoter scores?
  7. How would you personally be better prepared or supported?
  8. What is the impact to our current client and customer experiences? Will we be giving up anything?
  9. What is the significance of this in the context of everything you need to do?
  10. What if this fails?

BetterQuestions for Targeting a Budget

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