Sales professionals usually ask a few questions in order to gain a better understanding of their prospect’s situation. However, most of them don’t probe deep enough into the size and scope of the problem. I remember hearing a great phrase from another sales trainer. He suggested that sales people “pick at the prospect’s scab” which referred to the pain or problem that a prospect may be facing.

Your objective in taking this approach is to help your prospect discover the implication or impact of an issue or problem. When you talk to a new prospect and they express a particular concern or problem, take a few moments and probe a bit deeper. For example, if they say they experience a few customer complaints ask them often they get complaints. You may discover that a “few complaints” actually means three or four per month. Follow up by asking about the financial impact of those problems. In other words, how much does it cost the company to resolve the problems? Then, ask how those problems affect the prospect in terms of stress, time, and aggravation. This helps the prospect see the bigger picture and understand the impact of the problem on their business AND themselves.

Here are a few examples:

My wife had a client who needed to record the break times of its employees. Records were kept of the times people when workers left the floor and returned to work and every Monday morning one person was responsible for sifting through the previous week’s information (approximately 5000 Excel records) to determine payroll deductions. When my wife asked how much time that employee spent on that one activity she was told “approximately 5-6 hours.” Further questioning uncovered that this manager could use her employee to work on other projects.

My wife was able to create several macros in the Excel spreadsheet that cut the employee’s time to complete the task by three hours every Monday. Three hours doesn’t seem like much until you extrapolate that into a year. My wife’s solution saved over 150 hours of time which is the equivalent of almost four weeks of work. A month of productivity freed up from one solution!

A client of mine specializes in the packaging and shipping of large and awkward items which include valuable artwork. One of their art gallery customers used to spend hours or time figuring out how to package their work so they could send it to their customer without being damaged. This process interfered with the operation of their gallery because they did not have the necessary space, knowledge or experience. When they enlisted the services of my client, they reduced their stress, improved their customer experience, and increased their reputation in the local marketplace. All because my client knew how to ask more questions and pick at the scab.

The challenge here is that most salespeople accept what their prospects say at face value and they make assumptions. Which means they fail to ask the right questions. Many people feel that they are prying and this prevents them from probing deeper to discover the impact and implications of the problem. However, if you have opened the conversation and your prospect is comfortable responding to your questions, they will probably give you the information you need.

Here are a few questions you can ask to uncover that information.

? How has this situation affected your business, sales, customer service or market share?
? How much time do you or your employee(s) spend on that?
? What would it mean to you if that particular problem was resolved?
? What does this problem cost you or your company (in lost sales, customers, market share, image)?
? How does that affect your reputation in the local market?
? If we could solve that issue, what would it mean to you, your company, or your shareholders?
? If each of your sales reps closed one additional sale per month, how would that affect your sales/profitability?

These are not easy questions to ask. However, when you develop the courage to ask them, you will help your prospect think through extent of the pain of the problem. This will then give you the opportunity to better position your product, service, solution or offering. Pick at your prospect’s scab then offer them a Band-Aid.

© 2009 Kelley Robertson, All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Kelley Robertson, author of The Secrets of Power Selling helps sales professionals close more deals in any economy. Kelley conducts workshops and speaks regularly at sales meetings and conferences. For information on his programs contact him at 905-633-7750 or Receive a FREE copy of 100 Ways to Increase Your Sales by subscribing to his free newsletter at