Archive for November, 2009

The Most Important Question in Business

I train and coach business development people and at the end of every training session the key lesson highlighted by almost everyone is “knowing what questions to ask during the sales pitch”.  Actually a lot of them say that their key learning was “to ask questions during the sales pitch” & boy do those guys learn a lot at one of my seminars!

When we talk about questions I tell my delegates that the most important question for the sales person is “how is the buying decision going to be made”.  Almost 50% of sales presentations and over 80% of sales emails and cold calls are made to the wrong person and by that I mean someone who does not have the authority to say yes to the sale.

The most important question for the business however is to devise your own version of the most important question ever asked in business and that is “Do you want fries with that”?  Yup unless you are a five stone, vegan health freak you have said yes to that question.  Globally “Do you want fries with that”? is worth tens of millions in sales for MacDonald’s every year.  It got to the point that people didn’t wait to be asked they just ordered fries and MacDonald’s had to come up with another question “Would you like to supersize that”?

I am serious, I am not being flippant or funny, 99% of all sales presentations are designed from the viewpoint of the selling company, they are talking at people and hardly any sales pitches are based around asking questions of the buyer.

Let me by totally clear – Old style features and benefits presentations (especially on PowerPoint) are to sales what steam engines are to a Bullet Train!

The world has changed – as it always does – a new generation of buyers are in charge and they react badly to old style sales pitches. No one wants to be sold to any more they want help to buy!  The key to helping people to buy is to ask questions, to uncover their often hidden needs, wants and desires in a way that drives trust, which creates openness that leads to the sale.


When the sale is made the biggest opportunity in business is often missed.  The way to land the opportunity it is to ask the most important question in business – No not “do you want fries with that”? You need to ask your own personal version of that question.  As a sales recruiter the most important question I ever asked was “would you like training with that” and now my business model is based around only recruiting when I get to train the new sales guys and that means I can now offer a guarantee. In fact in recruitment the question that led to more sales during my entire recruitment career than calling and fixing appointments was “what other positions does your company need to fill”?

What is your version of the question?

  • Training – Would you like ongoing coaching with that?
  • Technology – Would you like technical support with that?
  • Flooring or roofing company – would you like us to maintain it and offer a guarantee?
  • Phone systems – would you like broadband and mobile phones with that?

OK I get that you wouldn’t always ask the question in such a simple way as MacDonalds but the principle remains the same.  Millions of pounds of sales are probably being missed by your business right now as either you haven’t figured out what your version of the question is – or because your people are not bothering to ask it.

On average the companies I work with get 25% more sales from existing customers and increase the value of new sales by 15% – but the question they invariably ask me to begin with is how they can find new customers!

Two Caveats

  1. In larger companies the reason the question doesn’t get asked is often because the benefit from any additional sale will go to a colleague in another team. Good sales management requires that where cross selling involved, sufficient benefit must go to the questioner.
  2. If your sales team are cold calling old fashioned closers, when they ask the question the answer will be NO even if the client really needs the additional service – think about it!

Engage your customers on a deeper level – ask searching questions, stop selling and start helping people to buy, become the type of company people want to buy from and remember that the most important question often comes after the sale is made.

Action – Please leave a comment and give me a call if you want to grow your business.

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Intelligise-Be Brilliant