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How to Sell to Businesses With These 4 Probing Questions

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The questions you ask during a sales pitch or negotiation can make or break your chance of success. Learning which questions to ask can give you and your sales team a better likelihood of getting the response you want. Asking probing questions during a negotiation is the most effective way to gain momentum, as it gives you the opportunity to learn more about your client and pitch to him or her in a way that hits home.

  1. Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are infinitely more powerful than closed questions. “Are you looking for a new supplier?” results in a situation wherein the client can only answer “yes” or “no.” It leaves no room for the detailed answer you need to make headway with a sale. “What are you looking for in a new supplier?” gives you room to push a sale even if the client didn’t know he or she needed a new supplier.

  1. Open Opportunity Questions

It’s important for you to give potential clients a say during a sales pitch. Although your company is the one doing the pitching, letting a client speak about what they want from you will let them know you’re listening and responding to their needs. Ask questions such as, “What do you think of this solution?” instead of “How about this solution?” to encourage them to give a detailed response. Listen to every part of the response, and use the information to your advantage.

  1. Loaded Questions

If you can skillfully execute a loaded question, it can subtly push potential clients in the desired direction. Ask questions that prompt certain responses, such as “How are you liking your current supplier?” Almost imperceptibly, you’re implying that there may be something wrong with your potential client’s current supplier. If you instead say, “Tell me how you like your new supplier,” you’re pushing the client towards a more positive response—leaving less room for you to show them how you’d be a better fit.

  1. Thought-Provoking Questions

We’ve saved the most important category for last: thought-provoking questions. Questions about your potential client’s thought process are probing enough to gauge insight into a person without prying. Ask a client to provide more detail about his or her process, or ask how he or she reached a certain conclusion. Let the client know you’re truly interested in what he or she has to say, and listen to his or her response carefully. When you ask deep, probing questions during a sales pitch, you establish yourself as an expert negotiator.

EDGE Program Reflection

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By: Ronald M. Shapiro, co-founder and chairman at SNI

As I reflect back on my opportunity to impact the participants of a Global Executives program known as EDGE, I wanted to share some background on the program, what my role was, and a participant’s testimonial on how The Power of Nice has enhanced his negotiation skills.

What is EDGE?

EDGE stands for Baltimore Emerging & Developing Global Executives.  It is a program that was started in September of this past year by the World Trade Center Institute (WTCI).  For those of you who are not familiar with WTCI, it is a non-profit, 501 C3 organization that helps to educate, support and connect Maryland companies to opportunities around the world.

What was it about the EDGE program that intrigued you?

As a teacher, I am always intrigued by the opportunity to interact and train business professionals on the art of negotiation, but the EDGE program, in particular, stuck out to me.  It was a program that I knew I could have a profound impact on the participants.

The goal of the EDGE program is to enhance each participant’s business acumen and to increase Baltimore’s international competitiveness.  The program’s duration lasts about 10 months, which includes an off-site retreat, multi-cultural training, meetings with c-level executives, and seven half-day sessions on topics of leadership and global business importance.  This is where I came in.  WTCI invited me to present at one of the EDGE program’s training sessions called the Art & Science of Global Negotiation.

With over 50 years of experience negotiating deals in similar industries to those of the participants, I was able to draw on my experiences and illustrate real-life negotiation examples.  By relating these examples to the participants’ world, they are better able to connect the negotiation principles they have learned to experiences they have had, bringing new light to the principles presented in the program.

Who were the participants in the EDGE program?

The participants were business professionals from a variety of different industries.  These business professionals came from companies such as Under Armour, Legg Mason, Northrop Grumman, Proctor & Gamble, TESSCO Technologies, and T. Rowe Price.  Each participant had 10+ years of experience within their defined industry.

By having an experienced, diverse group of less than twenty participants, I was able to focus on problems that each individual was facing and customize scenarios to replicate real-life negotiations. Through an interactive presentation that included live negotiations, each participant was able to use the negotiation principles presented and apply them in a live simulation – a key to maximizing impact.

Reflecting on your experience with the EDGE program, how impactful was your presentation?

I have taught tens of thousands of business professionals throughout the world – and the reason I continue to teach is because of the impact these programs have upon the participants.  Below is a quote from Perry Menzies of Terminal Corporation, a participant in the EDGE program, as he reflected on his experience.

“For me, some of the key takeaways from the EDGE program came from the powerful session on Global Negotiation presented by Ron Shapiro. This session was very interactive and allowed participants to engage in a mock negotiation situation. This proved to be incredibly well-timed as Terminal Corporation was going through annual rate negotiations as well as quoting new business in an effort to diversify into more inelastic cargoes. Using knowledge from this seminar we were able to successfully negotiate all rate increases as well as negotiate new business that we are confident will minimize the exposure we previously had in handling mainly forest products…” – Perry Menzies, Terminal Corp.

As exemplified by Perry’s testimonial, The Power of Nice is a program that brings real results to real people and can positively impact the negotiation skills of professionals in all industries.

Rebuilding Bridges: How to Salvage a Broken Business Relationship

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Business relationships are just as focused and dependent upon trust as any other relationship. Sometimes, deals fall through, deadlines aren’t met, or the result doesn’t meet expectations. Failings such as these can lead to resentment, but that doesn’t have to be the end of a business relationship. When you’re thinking about whether you should try to fix a damaged business relationship, keep this framework in mind.

Assess the Relationship’s Value 

It may sound harsh, but sometimes it’s better to let a relationship go rather than labor to salvage it. You need to make sure your effort is going to pay off. While this may sound like a cold calculation, rebuilding a business relationship is different from regaining trust from a friend. Emotional attachment may be important to personal relationships, but in the business world, both parties need to bring something to the table.

Know When You’re Wrong

We build relationships on trust, and if that trust is broken, it can be very difficult to repair. Rebuilding trust is possible, but it takes a great deal of effort and sometimes takes quite a long time. First, you need to take accountability for anything you may have done to contribute to the failed relationship. It can be difficult to recognize our own faults, but in the business world, it’s crucial that you’re able to own your mistakes so you don’t repeat them. Remember, you’re not just representing yourself – you represent your organization. Personal pride shouldn’t impact those types of decisions.

Open the Communication Channels

Once you have accounted for where you may have gone wrong, it’s time to open a dialog. This can be most difficult when trying to regain a frustrated client or customer, but it’s not impossible. Ask the other party what could have been done differently and if there’s anything you can do to resolve the issue now. Sometimes a singular issue can uncover a larger problem within your organization, so take the time to hear the other party, and then ask if you can do anything to improve your organization as a whole.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

This adage rings true in the business world. If you’ve determined where a business relationship has gone wrong, believe that it’s worth salvaging, and have reopened communications with the other party, it’s time to start making moves. If both parties have something to gain from continuing to do business with each other, it makes the process much easier. While emotions don’t play as much of a role in the business world as they do with personal relationships, the wronged party needs to see that you’re willing to accept failings on your part and are taking measurable steps to correct them.

Any business relationship has potential, so they’re almost always worth salvaging. Take the time to extend an olive branch and try to rectify your past mistakes. You don’t want to be known as an organization that doesn’t play well with others.