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Asking these 5 Questions Leads to Relevant Sales Messaging

questions to ask yourself before a sales call

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Creating Relevant Sales Messages in the "New Normal"

Fundamental business needs have changed. The most pertinent challenges are different than those at the beginning of the year. Research from PwC shows that capabilities like resiliency and agility are among the most important to businesses today. The same data shows that 80% of respondents plan to implement cost containment measures, and 58% cite their intentions to defer or cancel planned investments.

At the same time, businesses are examining their partnerships through a different lens. Approximately half of businesses want to better understand the operational health of their suppliers in an effort to bring more consistency and stability to their model.

These findings illustrate a surprising development: rather than seeking a return to normalcy, many are taking a new look at the circumstances of today and are trying to understand their new identity in what promises to be a changed environment. Getting “back to normal” is of little value because doing so would only revert to practices that ignore the lasting impact of the global pandemic.

With so many changes like these, sales professionals need a way to find new relevance. They need to set aside what they have always known to be true and relearn the customer’s new direction. They need to speak to the customer’s new needs. This process begins by developing an understanding of how the customer’s world has changed. This endeavor is complicated because even the customer is often struggling to gain clarity on how they need to change. Moreover, this process must occur across numerous customers all experiencing different amounts of change.

graphic of richardson's sales capability framework that is made up of 15 sales capabilities supported by 55 sales behaviors

Sales Capability Framework

Richardson helps teams develop diverse selling capabilities enabling sales professionals to stay agile and adaptable amidst market changes and increasing customer demands. Richardson’s Sales Capability Framework is a complete collection of 15 sales capabilities supported by 55 sales behaviors that sellers must master to enhance commercial selling competitiveness.

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5 Sales Call Preparation Reflection Questions

The solution is to rely on a structured approach consisting of five key questions designed to get to the core of the customer’s changes and the sales professional’s capabilities and arrive at a new message that resonates. 

Here, we offer those five questions.

1. Who Are Our Customers, Who is Buying, and Who Is Not?

Many sales professionals face a challenging economy in which they must work twice as hard to earn half as much. Therefore, they must be more careful about where they apply their efforts and consider the opportunity costs associated with focusing on the wrong prospects. 

Asking “Who are our customers?” is a way to isolate the opportunities in which the product or service being positioned can offer the greatest impact. The question also serves as a reminder that sales professionals must strengthen existing relationships and preserve revenue because even the strongest business relationships have never been in question more than they are now.

The question “Who is buying, and who is not?” is more than a way to understand which customers are still engaged in the buying journey. The question also underscores the importance of knowing how the purchasing authority has changed among a group of stakeholders. 

As budgets shrink, financing decisions come under greater scrutiny and fewer people are in a position to spend.

2. What Is Our Customer's New Reality, and How Is It Evolving?

This question is the most important of the five and the most difficult to answer. However, engaging the customer in a dialogue to explore this question creates an opportunity for the sales professional to inhabit the role of a trusted advisor. 

In the confusion and upheaval of the pandemic, many customers are not aware of the importance of reassessing their new reality and how they plan to navigate the road ahead. The question is an important prompt to get stakeholders to think critically and honestly about their place in the future.

The question also offers an opportunity for the sales professional to shape the customer’s thinking and influence their strategy. This approach contrasts with the common default of “response mode,” which is characteristic of some sales teams during a period of uncertainty. Here, sales professionals must take the initiative to understand the customer’s new pain points. 

These conversations can become uncomfortable, but in the long term, they offer insight into what aspects of the solution will be most relevant.

Learn about how to navigate high-risk, high-reward conversations with your customers by downloading the white paper, High-Stakes Customer Conversations

3. How Do Our Products and Services Address the New and Emerging Reality?

Answering this question will require sales professionals to get creative. 

In many cases, the product or service will, on the surface, have little relevance to the customer’s changing needs. Therefore, it is important to go deeper than the customer’s initial stated goals and challenges, which might include reducing costs, driving revenue, and mitigating risk. By asking more questions the sales professional will learn what resides below each of these. As more details are uncovered, the sales professional will reveal more avenues to the sale. 

For example, if low pricing is the key driver in the buying process for a customer, a sales professional positioning a higher-priced solution may choose to underscore the dependability of the product or service and the long-term cost savings that come from not having to change suppliers.

To properly answer this question, sales professionals must also recognize that their original advocate within the customer’s business may no longer hold the influence on stakeholders they once did. Furthermore, they may no longer have a complete understanding of the rapidly changing stakeholder needs. Overcoming this challenge means relearning the stakeholder structure and restarting the conversation with each one.

4. How Differentiated are We?

Developing a differentiated value proposition is difficult for two key reasons. 

  1. Differentiation is elusive as more industries succumb to commoditization. This modern challenge arises from advances in technology, which allow new entrants to more easily scale the once towering walls that protected established businesses. 
  2. Commoditization has increased as a direct result of the global pandemic. Today, most companies across industries are telegraphing the same message of dependability and support. This harmony of advertised empathy is fading into the background noise. 

In this setting, many sales professionals can position meaningful differentiation by leveraging the value of their insights rather than specific benefits and features found in the solution. That is, the most effective sales professionals offer more than just a product or service — they offer expertise for handling challenges like solution implementation, coalescing internal support for change, and sustaining the value of the product or solution over the long term. 

For more information about how to define your unique differentiators download the brief, How to Rediscover Solution Differentiators in a Changed World

When answering this question, sales professionals should think beyond the scope of the traditional list of features and benefits.

5. How do we Articulate our Capabilities Against the Current Reality

To answer this question, sales professionals should consider how they will frame their value. They must consider how they will contextualize every benefit of their solution and acumen within the customer’s world. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Instead, sales professionals will need to articulate their capabilities in different ways because each customer and each conversation is different. 

No matter which aspect of the solution they articulate, sales professionals should always use clear, concise language when doing so. 

As business challenges become more urgent and more complex, buyers become more attuned to simplified messaging even if that messaging articulates a complex and sophisticated solution. When articulating capabilities against the current reality, sales professionals must use a narrative structure that makes it easy to envision how a successful outcome will unfold. Put simply, any answer to this question should address not only what is communicated, but how it is communicated.

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