Buyer refuses to answer your questions? Do this!

by Steli Efti

I recently got an email from Vivek, one of my blog readers, who had to pitch to a massive car company. It was a high-pressure sales situation for Vivek. The stakes were high as a lot depended on this deal and he had just one shot. 

As soon as Vivek opened the presentation with a qualifying question, the buyer interrupted him: 

“Listen, Vivek. You are here to present to us. We would like to not have to answer any questions. Why don’t you just go ahead and make the presentation? We will ask the questions. And then when you leave, we can determine whether we want to move forward with this or not.”

How do you, as a sales person, deal with this challenge?

In this post, I will tell you what you can do to turn an unfavorable sales presentation around and win over your prospective buyers.

Should you fight or follow?

Properly qualifying your prospects is a crucial step in sales. Asking questions and listening to answers is one of the most important aspects of your interactions with a prospective customer. 

Your ability to do your job well is squashed when the buyer tells you:

“You’re not allowed to ask any questions. I just want you to present, and I’ll make my choice afterwards.”

refusetoanswer

What do you do?

Do you:

A. Fight for your right to ask, or
B. Sell the way your prospects want to buy?

If you think that a large enterprise has its own way of making purchasing decisions and it’s easier for you to adapt to its buying process than to get the enterprise to adapt to your sales process, you might choose option B.

I, however, would strongly advise you to choose option A.

But how do you fight for your right to ask questions without creating an argument?

You can't just insist on your way of selling. You can’t declare:

“No way! This is how I present and sell, and I need to ask you these questions!”

Instead, your goal is to demonstrate to your prospects that answering your questions will benefit them. You have to disagree without being disagreeable.

Plan A: Turning your meeting around

Here is a step-by-step process you can follow to convince your prospects to let you lead the conversation.

Step 1: Make a supporting statement:

“That makes perfect sense. In a typical vendor and buyer relationship, that’s a really good process, and it’s served you really well.”

Step 2: Re-frame the issue:

“But we like to be more than just a vendor. We actually want to be a partner.”

Step 3: Make your case:

“In order to be a partner, it’s important for us to truly understand what the needs of the people who use our software are. Only this way we can make really good recommendations and focus on what’s most important.”

Step 4: Sell your prospects on an additional benefit of green-lighting your questions:

“So, I would suggest we just take five minutes to explore how our product would actually relate to your initiatives and needs. These five minutes will either make the next 45 minutes more productive or it will save both of us a lot of time because in five minutes we might discover that we’re not the right fit. If we discover quickly that we are not the right fit, I won't waste your time with a long presentation.”

Step 5: Transition into your first question (without waiting for permission):

“Does that sound fair? I have three really crucial questions that will influence the way I present our product, and I think it’s going to make a big difference.”

Executing plan B

If you manage to convince your prospective buyers to answer your questions, great!

If they interrupt you again and refuse to provide you with any information, you’ll have to make your next decision.

Do you now:

  • Play by their rules, or
  • Insist that the questions are of vital importance?

From my personal experience, I’d advise against pitching to a buyer who is totally closed to receiving your questions and treats you like a commodity.

But if you want the deal to happen so badly that you’re willing to tolerate such treatment, then proceed as they instruct you.

Be aware, however, of the disadvantaged position you will find yourself in.

You’re throwing darts in the dark. You don’t know your prospects' decision-making criteria. You don’t know their pain points and objectives. You’re treating guesswork as gospel, flying blind.

My question to you is: if you’re flying blind, should you make your presentation as short as possible or as long as possible?

Think about that for a minute. What’s the better strategy here?

You might be thinking that it makes sense to squeeze as many case studies and convey as many different benefits of your product or service as possible into your presentation. You hope that among the great number of value propositions you showcase, at least one will hit your buyers' sweet spot.

If you think making your presentation longer is the right choice because it allows you to cover more ground and talk more extensively about the topic, think again.

Why?

Large amounts of information will overload and bore your prospects. They won't pick up on the things they like. Instead, they’ll focus on the elements of your presentation they dislike.

That’s why you should keep the presentation short. Take 10-15 minutes to highlight the most important facts about you and your solution in general. Tell a quick, 2-5 minute, story of how adopting your solution helped a company similar to theirs.

End the presentation by saying:

“At this point, I think it’s a good time to actually have you ask some questions to make sure I answer and address everything that’s important to you.” 

And then let them drive the conversation by asking questions.

Answering follow-up questions will give you the opportunity to ask clarifying – read qualifying – questions.

Buyer: “Well, how do you ________?”

You: “You know what, that’s an interesting question. Let me make sure I understand it correctly. Is this important to you because of X or because of Y?”

That’s how you secretly present a qualifying question to a buyer who resists being asked qualifying questions.

You have to be attuned to the subtle dance between you and your prospects. Let them guide you in the direction they want the presentation to go while keeping your goals in mind.

Conclusion

When your ability to ask qualifying questions during a sales pitch is hampered by the uncooperative prospect, try to reframe your request as a benefit to them.

If your attempts fail and you don't want to walk away from the meeting, comply with the proposed format but make your presentation short. State the most relevant facts and insert a case study to support your points.

Use follow-up questions as an opportunity to ask your qualifying questions and transform the presentation into a productive conversation for both sides.