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The Secret to Selling is Asking the Right Questions

BY NICK BROWN

A few months ago, I went in to my credit union branch to deposit some checks into my business account. Like many credit union branches, behind the teller line were a few TV’s playing the standard loop—the weather, then sports scores, some trivia and news, then an advertisement for the product or service the marketing team is promoting.

The credit union was promoting their 401K-rollover. If you rolled over your 401K with them you would also get a large gift card. This quickly caught my eye because for the past two-plus years, I have been meaning to roll over a 401K from my previous employer.I thought to myself, “Cool, I can get a gift card for doing something I am already planning to do.”

While the teller processed my deposit,I made a comment to her about the promotion.I believe I said something like “Oh, I see you are running a 401K-rollover promotion right now.” She responded by giving me some information about the promotion and then she asked me a question, “Have you ever met with one of our advisors?”

It just so happens that I have met with their advisors many times but never about my 401K.In fact, I had worked with several of their advisors in the past and so I answered honestly, “Yes, I have.”She said okay, and went back to processing my transaction. I waited for a response that would continue the conversation, allow me to share that I had a 401K I wanted to roll over with them, but I could tell she wasn’t prepared for that answer. I walked out of the branch and went on with my day.Now, six months later, I still need to roll over my 401K.

I share this experience because I feel it is a great example of a worthy attempt to sell that failed. The reason it failed was because the wrong question was asked.  The question asked was a closing question, and a request to take action before the teller even learned if I had a need. Not know if I had a need, she was unable to handle my response, she had no place to go except back to my transaction.

If you’ve read my articles, taken my online training, or attended on of my sales training workshops, you know that the secret to consistent, predictable success in selling comes not from a statement or phrase; it comes from following a process which begins with asking great questions.That process is to:

  • identify a need
  • start the conversation
  • learn more with questions
  • discuss product features, benefits, and advantages
  • ask to take the next step

I call this sales process The Simple Offer.

The Simple Offer is something that all credit union employees can follow to sell in just about any situation.It can be used at the teller line, at the loan officer desk, and over the phone in the contact center. It certainly can be used by your mortgage, investments, insurance, and business services teams as well to connect product and service solutions with member needs and capture the full member relationship.

These steps in this sales process are sequential, meaning that they must be executed in order and none of them can be skipped.In the example above, you can see that the teller went from identifying a need to asking for a commitment to take the next step. Had the sales process been followed, the next step should have been to start the conversation by asking a great question to learn more about my need.An effective question that focuses on my need may have sounded something like this: “Do you have a 401K that needs to be rolled over?”

With this question, the teller would have learned that I do have a 401K.She could have then asked a few questions to learn why the 401K hadn’t been rolled over yet and if I had a plan for the 401K already. These questions would have led me to conclude that setting an appointment to meet with an investment advisor next best step.  When asked to make that commitment, I would have said yes.

Here is how that conversation may have sound educing the simple offer:

Me: “Oh, I see you are running a 401K rollover promotion…”

Teller: “Yes.If you meet with an advisor by the end of the month to discuss a 401K rollover, we will give you a gift card.Do you have a 401K that needs to be rolled over?”

Me: “Yes.I’ve needed to roll over a 401K for the last two years.”

Teller: “Is there a reason you have been waiting these two years to rollover your 401K?”

Me: “No. I just keep putting it off.”

Teller: “So what is your plan then for your 401K?”

Me: “Actually, my plan was to roll it over with you guys. I just haven’t made the appointment yet.”

Teller: “It may have been a good thing that you waited.Now, we can help you to rollover your 401k and give you a gift card.”

Me: “That’s a good point.”

And the sales conversation would have continued to ask for and get a commitment from me to move to the next step.

In the hypothetical conversation above, the sales discussion was able to continue because the right question was asked at the right time.That question did a few things.First, it invited me to share.Second, that invitation revealed the need that I had.And third, it opened a natural conversation flow and allowed the teller to ask additional questions, which were much more personal.

The Simple Offer works because it taps into the same process we all go through to make buying decisions. Sales guru, Jeffrey Gitomer has a saying that “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” The most successful sales people understand this principle.They see themselves as a partner in the buying process. They ask questions to identify and understand the need and then utilize their knowledge and experience to guide their members to the products and services thatbest fill those needs.

A critical skill for any credit union salesperson to poses is the ability to ask great questions.  Be sure to include training on asking question as part of any sales program and even in the operational training courses your credit union offers.  When coaching sales employees, their questions they ask should be the primary focus.

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