Episode 54: The Power of Asking Questions – Pat Helmers

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 54: The Power of Asking Questions - Pat Helmers
00:00 / 00:00

Do you clam up when you finally get on the phone with your prospect? Or worse, do you follow a pre-planned script without letting your prospect get a word in edgewise? On this episode of Predictable Prospecting we’re joined by sales expert and host of the iconic Sales Babble Podcast Pat Helmers for a discussion on why listening is the most important part of sales.

Pat shares his unique framework for qualifying sales leads, and walks us through his process for having a great conversation with a prospect. This episode is a must-listen!

Episode Highlights:

  • Pat Helmer’s biggest qualifying pet peeve
  • The SORT questions and the DUM questions: A framework for qualifying
  • Why startup companies have a difficult time pitching their product
  • How to begin the SORT and DUM process
  • Closing the sale
  • Letting go of the fear of silence



Episode Transcript

Marylou: Hello there, it’s Marylou Tyler. I was a guest a few weeks ago on a podcast that was just so much fun that I invited the host of that podcast to come onto my podcast today. Pat Helmer’s here. He’s a podcaster for a radio show, Sales Babble. He’s also an interesting man because he does a lot of consulting and coaching for tech start-ups, start-ups that are through friends, families, colleagues have inched their way into the million dollar range or higher up to $5 million. But then, they have to concentrate on really putting stuff together properly in order to get further, he specializes in that as well. Welcome, Pat, to the podcast. It’s great to have you.

Pat: It’s so great to be here, Marylou. This is such an honor.

Marylou: We’re going to do something a little bit different today. As I’m told from you’re, going to surprise me as to the format of my show. I’d like to start with you’ve obviously been doing this for quite some time now. I’ve talked to a plethora of colleagues and experts. Let’s talk about a subject that’s near and dear to your heart, which sounds like we’re going to hit the qualifying subject. Is that correct?

Pat: Exactly correct.

Marylou: Let’s start by helping our audience understand what the main problem is that you’ve encountered or that you see over and over again that today, what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk to them about the problem, give them a solution and ask them to take action, today.

Pat: Today, important to not just listen, to not just be infotainment, but to actually better yourself. That’s what we’re going to do today.

Marylou: What specifically about qualifying is it that gets your blood boiling?

Pat: I think, how many times I’ve been to a network meeting and you shake hands with people. The first thing they do is they start spouting off this product or service that they have and you can’t get them to stop.

Marylou: Probably a lot.

Pat: It’s like they haven’t taken the time to figure out whether or not you’re even the right kind of person to purchase something that they have. People do this on the phone too. They call up and they start talking. They don’t take the time to see whether or not you’re the kind of person that would buy from them. That’s what we commonly call qualifying. Are you qualified to purchase what I have? Far too often, people believe that if they just talk fast enough, it’s going to be totally obvious that the stuff that I have is terrific and you should write me a check right now, hand over your credit card. That happens, doesn’t it?

Marylou: Indeed. Well, I’m re break it down in the framework that I put together. We go for fit and then for qualification. There’s always a ton of information on LinkedIn and colleagues chiming in as to the perfect band or the perfect set of questions to ask. I kind of take that with a grain of salt because I really think it depends on the situation.

Pat: I agree. I have a framework of questions that we’re going to go through, what I call the sort questions and what I call the dum questions.

Marylou: Alright. Where do you want to start?

Pat: We could start with the sort questions. To a certain degree, sales a race to value. The sooner that we conceive, if you can provide value to them, the better. If you can’t provide value with them, you’d be probably better off to move on. Stop wasting their time, stop wasting your time, and go work on some other lead.

I did a study last year, the number one problem that people had was we don’t have enough leads and the number two problem was we don’t have enough time. Those are the kinds of the things that we should be working on. The trick is, remember I said before, what it was? People said, “If you just listen hard enough, you’ll want to buy my stuff.” It is about listening but you really have to turn around and you have to be the listener. The best way to do that is to build a process around that as if it’s a repeatable process, then it’s much more likely you’re going to be successful.

The first set of questions are what I call the sort questions. The first question are the story questions. Commonly, the kinds things that I like to ask people are who are you, where did you come from? Maybe where the company came from? Where you came from? Where are you at right now? What is your happily ever after? What do you want to happen in the future? If you just start asking people about themselves, they love to tell you, especially if you do it in a very conversational way.

What are you guys about? Where are you at right now? They may be saying good things that are happening to the company, but they also start probably sharing a little bit of challenges and problems that they’re having. If you ask them, “Where do you see the company going in four, five years?” Something like that, or the business or the new product and services they’re providing. Then, they’ll tell you.

Once you got them warmed up, then you move to the O questions, the obstacle questions. The kinds of questions I like to ask are, “What are the things that are stopping you from reaching you happily ever after?” Make sense?

Marylou: Yes.

Pat: They’ll start giving you a list of things that are issues and you’ll go, “Okay. Okay. Okay.” You should be mentally writing these down. If you’re on the telephone, I would physically be writing them down. Every time they say an obstacle, I’m on the notion of saying, “What else?” This is something I was taught many years ago when I was doing market research for a market research company. It’s surprising if you keep asking what else the things that will come out of people.

Then, the third thing you ask are the R questions, those are the ramification questions. What that goes to is that because in this obstacle, you would ask them, “What are the ramifications of that happening on your business? What’s the bad things that would be happening because of this?” What that actually should do is start making them angry and uncomfortable. It’s like your goal to a certain degree is to make them not feel very good. They’ll start saying, “Well because, one problem, our costs or skyrocketing.” “Oh my Goodness,” “Because of this other problem, our revenues are dropping.” “Oh my goodness.” “This other problem that I mentioned? That obstacle stops our profits and they’re decreasing. This obstacle is decreasing our quality and this one is increasing our frustration and people are quitting.” That’s the kind of goal that you’re looking for.

Marylou: Agitate.

Pat: Agitate. And then you try to set them aside. We go to the T questions, the transformation questions. How would it transform your company if we would take all those obstacles and make those disappear? Poof! Away. Then, they would see a light at the end of the tunnel, they would think, “Well, that would be traffic. If we could knock that up obstacle down, then our revenues will increase. If we can knock that one down, our costs would decrease.” You just got to walk through all those things.

Now that you have a much better understanding, you can ask yourself do you have something that can provide value for them? You may read that they don’t. This to a certain degree, all sales is a matchmaking process. Am I a good match for you and are you a good match for me? What we’re always looking at to do is we’re trying to go as fast as we can. We need to race to value. We’re looking to see whether or not they’re a match or not a match. If you can find that they’re not a match, then you move on.

There’s three more questions we have to ask, the dum questions, whether or not they’re a good match. The first one is, “How do you guys make decisions about transformation? How do you make decision about buying things? Changing things? Or modifying things, increasing your process?” What you learned from that is whether or not they’re the decision maker, jointly, collectively.

Lots of organization have lots of different ways for approach. That’s the next question you want to know. How do you make these kind of decisions? Then you ask the U questions, the urgency question. When are you looking to do something like this, to improve this, to take these obstacles and start addressing them and to make those go away?

The last one is what commonly comes of that, the money question or the funding question. Have you set aside budgets to do something like this? Once you get a yes out of all of these, then and only then is a time for you to start pitching a solution. Does that make sense?

Marylou: Makes total sense. In our world where there are some reps that these roles are separated, that is also the point in time where you decide whether this particular opportunity is ready for hand-off to the quota carrying side of the house. We do have some of our audience who work in sales organizations where the roles are separated. And then of course, there are the folks who prospect, close and service accounts all in one role, they do it all.

What I really like about this is that you are taking the time upfront to learn about your prospect, that’s so important. You’ll hear keywords and phrases and just little nuggets that if you do your homework and if you’ve studied you product and service, you should be able to link some of these obstacles to case studies, use cases, pieces of information that can help later on provide more specificity around how those problems were solved by your clients that went before them. There’s a good social proof built into that once you really listen to what the problems and challenges they’re experiencing. You already have that map in your head that these are the solutions that you’re able to give and also the specificity improves if a client of yours has done that already, at various stages of success.

Pat: I agree. I work with a lot of startups, and one of the big problems that they have is they have an itch that needs scratching and they go invent something. To them, it seems obvious that everybody should want to buy it. They haven’t taken the time to really get to know who their ideal client is. They haven’t built that value proposition. Because they haven’t gone through these kinds of questions over and over again and to see these recurring things, these recurring sets of obstacles and how it affects their business, it’s very difficult for them to even pitch a solution because they don’t know their language. We have a secret language and we need to learn that language. The best way you can learn it is to listen.

Marylou: Amen. We have sort, we have dum.

Pat: Yes.

Marylou: Our listeners are like, “Okay, they told me that we’re going to have to do something now.”

Pat: Picture the possibility. If you were to write these down, what do you think would be the obstacles that your prospective clients would have? What do you think because of these obstacles, how do you think it affects their business? How do you think their business would be transformed if those were cut away? Can you answer those? If you’re a seller and you can’t answer those questions, if you’re not really absolutely certain, I have an exercise where I’ve had to write down 10 questions for each one of those. You should truly, deeply understand what those are.

This is what I mean by having methodical process, you have something preset. Every time you’re doing the sales call or anytime you’re communicating with a prospective client, you have an agenda in mind and you know exactly what you’re going to ask. You’re going to take this process to get to a place where I can see whether it’s a match or it’s not a match. And the sooner it’s not a match, the better. I can move on to the next one, that way you’re not wasting time with people who aren’t qualified, who are aren’t ready to buy right now. They might be three months, six months, a year, but better to find people who have a true need or desire right now that they want to address.

Marylou: This is such a great framework because it does force you to think through the obstacles, the outcomes and the opportunities and then overlay that with specificity later on. I’m thinking email engine too because I know that what we’re talking about right now is the actual call or face to face but there is also a component of what the work that I do that leverages technology in the form of female engines. This particular cadence that you’re describing is also what we use in crafting our email sequences. You actually said the word themes. That’s what we call them for the obstacles, the themes. What are the themes for the email sequence that we know will resonate sooner than later with our prospects. This is all to help us warm up that chill for the first call.

Pat: We could totally turn this paradigm away from sales into marketing. Not so much about your ideal clients, but about your avatar. Unless you truly understand what your avatar is like or not like, how can you write an autoresponder series in your email?

Marylou: You don’t, you just spray and pray.

Pat: That just doesn’t work.

Marylou: It doesn’t.

Pat: You don’t want to live on that space. Picture, you could use a framework like this to do market research on a market niche that you think you want to address. By asking these questions, they’re going to be saying, if we interviewed a dozen people, they’re going to be giving me these quotes that are just lovely, that you’d want to stick in an autoresponder series. “I can’t believe our costs were going up because of this problem. I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t sleep at night.”

Marylou: I know that a lot of our listeners are probably thinking is there a standard list of questions that I can start from in each area, or is it really something where I sit down and look at a blank piece of paper, write down SORT, followed by DUM and start filling in the page? What do you recommend for our audience?

Pat: That would be the latter, not the former. One thing about sales babble is I’ve interviewed people on all kinds of industries all over the world. Selling is very different actually in some things, in some businesses than in others. I really think it’s good to be something specific to your business.

But surprisingly, I think if you think it out and write down, let’s say I was to write out 10 obstacle questions. You might know them. You actually might already know them just by dumb luck of being in the industry, or you might not and that’s okay. If that’s the case, then it’s worth going back to your clients that you have right now that were happy and asking them these questions. “At the time that you bought from us, what was your story? At the time that you bought from us, what were the obstacles that you were facing? At the time that you bought from us, what were the ramification of those obstacles on your business? What were the challenges that you were facing? And then once you bought us, how did that transform your business?” Probably out of that, you’re going to get terrific quotes that you can then stick on your brochures.

Marylou: Right. For those folks in complex sales who are listening to this, it’s so great to grab the different people, the different avatars that may be ebbing and flowing in at top of funnel especially as you’re trying to get and march that opportunity down towards close. You may be dealing with different people who bought for different reasons. You don’t want to just nail one and then not do the others if there are more people that are coming into your world as you’re working through the sales process. This exercise that Pat’s talking about is great to do for any avatar persona that you think is going to be valuable either a direct or indirect influence to your target and of course your target themselves.

Pat: It’s interesting you mention something there about the close. It’s actually very easy to close once you’ve gone through this process. The question becomes just simply as that you mentioned you had all these issues and you noticed how our solutions addresses each of those. You kind of walk through them one by one. See we addressed that? See we addresses this? You get them to nod their heads up and down. You go, well, it looks to me like we’re a good match for you. You just simply say, “Well, let’s get started. Let’s start rolling it out. Who do I talk to about that? We have a process for that, who should we start working with on that?”

Marylou: All those are great ways to help get people moving. That’s what we want. We want people to move, listeners included. Homework from this podcast is to really take those acronyms. I’ll give you some examples of my sort and dum in the show notes so that you have them there, because everybody knows I like to do what my hosts tell me that they’re going to have my audience do. I also do the homework, I’ll be sure to put out my questions. A lot of you know I’ve worked on these already because I call it a success path but it’s the same similar type of thing.

For those of us who are working on email streams which we dabble in marketing a little bit at the side of the funnel, this is absolutely wonderful to start thinking about how you’re going to organize your emails, especially the ones that you’re working on in what we call the working status where you create the template and then you hyper personalize depending on who you’re talking to and then what position they are in the pipeline. These are great ways to get them thinking through where they are, where they want to be, and then most importantly how you’ve shown others how they got there and are now enjoying that transformation. What else would you like to share with our group, Pat?

Pat: I think that’s a lot right there. If you could just do one thing this week, it’s to really listen, genuinely listen to what people are saying to you when you meet with them. Not pitch too soon, but deeply try to understand what is the need or the desire that they’re looking for. To see whether or not you can add value to their lives. Listen, it’s the best way to know what people are thinking. You don’t have to guess. Ask them, they’ll tell you. People want to share what’s going on in their lives. I can go on and on about this.

Marylou: Silence is always a good thing too. Don’t be afraid of the silence after you ask a question. Don’t feel that you have to fill that void with something else. I see that a lot, we can’t just sit back and let silence happen. Maybe they’re thinking about what they want to tell you, don’t interrupt.

Pat: I got to give a demo. The power of asking questions and letting them ruminate over it.

Marylou: It’s unsettling when you first experience it or force yourself to do it, but after a while you welcome it. You just let them do, let them sit. They’re probably thinking through all the different things that could happen, what happened, should happen. You’re their guide, you have to think of it that way. They’re the hero, you’re their guide. You’re listening and waiting for them to respond. Don’t interrupt.

Pat: I have this feeling, I don’t know if there’s data behind this, but I have this feeling that the more they talk, the more likely they’ll buy.

Marylou: Yes. I have been told on many occasions that I have been so helpful to people. 90% of the time when you listen back to those conversations, I said one thing at the beginning. The rest of the time, it was them talking.

Pat: I’m a natural asking questions and letting people do the talking.

Marylou: Hence, that’s why you’re a great show host.

Pat: That’s why I went in the podcast I guess, it’s probably something to that. I remember I read a story that Dale Carnegie once said, he would go to this dinners and he would ask people who he was sitting next to about their lives. That would be it, he had to kick off the first question and then they would start talking. He said at the end of the night they would say to him, “This has been the best discussion that I ever had with somebody, you are a master conversationalist.”

Marylou: Yes, I remember reading that. I’ve heard Jay Abraham who’s a very good friend. He tells a story about someone he met, he went to Beijing or something, went up to the concierge room, sat down, saw a guy sitting over by the window, did the Dale Carnegie, asked him one question. Three hours later, the guy finished the conversation and said the same thing, this is the best night I’ve had. Jay said he just really asked him one question and that was it.

Good lessons, people, definitely. The art of listening is one area to take away for this week and then definitely I’ll put those acronyms out there. I think that’s a wonderful way to remember how to carry on a conversation with your prospects. Pat, how do we get a hold of you if we want to learn more of the Pat wisdom?

Pat: Google Pat Helmers, I pop to the top. If they want to listen to the podcast, it’s at www.salesbabble.com. I’m in iTunes and Player FM, Stitcher and all those. If you like, I’d be more than happy to build a worksheet for you with the sort questions.

Marylou: That would be awesome, I would really love that. We’ll get that going and have that out there for them. We very much appreciate the time you spent with us and look forward to hearing more of the Sales Babble podcast. Great group over there of people, they were really excited about the podcast that you and I did about the seven healthy phone habits because they got a lot of requests for that. It went really well, it’s good. My LinkedIn blog post went crazy the other day because of your troops.

Pat: They’re really smart people. They want to get better who are embracing sales. You’re a great guest. I was honored to have you on there, and it has been an honor to be here visiting you.

Marylou: Well, thank you. I really enjoyed it and we’ll have you back again I’m sure, there are so many topics to talk about, so little time.

Pat: I almost started a few.

Marylou: Qualification is good, this is good. This is where people get stuck a lot in the pipeline. Also that first conversation, what to say when they say hello on the other end. That’s another area that we can go, but I think that’s another area that I’m sure you have some great advice on, that first conversation. We’ll be sure to stay tuned to your podcast and again, Pat thank you so much, I enjoyed having you on the show today.

Pat: It’s been terrific. Thank you.