How to Handle Tough Sales Questions

angrysalespresentationHandling questions is a critical selling skill. In every sales presentation or demonstration, some questions will be hostile, pointed or negative. How you handle these tough questions can make or break the sale.

Unlike politics or debate, in sales you must not only persuade your audience to agree with your point of view, you must also answer all questions. In essence, you need to get the audience to emotionally “buy into” what you’re selling.

Why are your prices so high.. Why is the interface so slow… Why can’t you do it, your competition can…
–typical day in the life of a salesperson

Here are 5 tips for answering tough sales questions.

1) Stay cool – Some questions may be hostile or reflect a negative agenda on the part of the questioner. Sometimes the express purpose of the question is to get you to react or get you off your game.

If you hope to win the sale, you can’t get emotional in these situations. Carefully analyze the question and dispassionately come up with an answer that moves the sale forward or at least keeps the conversation positive. Remember, the prospect is focused on their interests and not yours. Don’t take tough questions personally–it’s just business.

2) Answer the question – How many times have you seen a politician respond to a question by giving a mini-speech that’s unrelated to the question. In sales non-answers are the kiss of death–you’re basically telling the prospect:

  • I don’t understand the question so here’s some BS
  • I don’t want to answer this question
  • I don’t have a good answer so I guess I’ll dodge the question

None of these approaches moves the sale forward so please don’t use them. Here is a process that I use to be sure that I answer the question that is asked:

  1. Rephrase the question in your own words to verify that you understand it. The prospect will let you know if you are off track.
  2. Factor in the objectives of the person asking the question in your answer. Managers want to hear about ROI and Vision attainment, end users want to know about implementation issues and day in the life impact.
  3. Ask a follow up question before you answer if you need too, if you try to answer before you understand the entire situation, you may say something that turns off the prospect.
  4. Answer honestly and succinctly
  5. Ask them if you have answered their question. They will let you know if you haven’t

3) Show what you know – Sometimes there’s no good answer to a question. I’ve seen this in technology sales when products on the market don’t handle a situation well.

For example, if most products handle about 80% of a problem but fall short in an area that’s of concern to the prospect you should:

  • Talk about the issue and show that you understand the implications.
  • Outline possible approaches and why they may be of interest; discuss why no vendor has implemented them.
  • Explain that since all other products have the same issues, your product is up to par.
  • Show how your existing customers handle the situation and if possible how your solution helps to mitigate any shortcomings.

4) Use humor to defuse the situation – If the audience is generally on your side, but you have been asked a difficult question, you may want to use a bit of self-effacing humor to lighten the mood. As an example:

With a smile: ” I’m so glad you asked that question…” then acknowledge that it is a thorny issues and that it is important to address it.

5) Be respectful – We have all done it. A prospect asks a question that we covered earlier in our presentation and we can’t help but say: “As I said before!” then answer the question. Don’t do it! Ever! It shows a complete lack of respect and alienates the person asking the question. You are much better off to simply say something like: Good question, here is what we do…”

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