In our last newsletter, we discussed the difference between Features, Benefits and Advantages, and the importance of being able to genuinely identify the needs of your partners (or end-users, if you happen to be a reseller account manager). In this article, we will delve deeper into this topic of identifying needs, and show you an effective consultative questioning approach that will help you uncover what partners really need, and enable you to deliver genuine benefits.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all partners want the same thing – margin, rebates, leads, support, etc. And it’s easy to see why – these nearly always get raised in partner review meetings. But the real skill of the professional Channel Account Manager is to delve beyond this and get to the crux of what drives the partner’s behaviour. And that means taking off your salesperson’s hat, putting on a consultant’s hat and asking the right questions.
So let’s look at a questioning framework that helps you delve a bit deeper and really get to the bottom of what makes your partners tick.
The 5C Questioning Framework
Channel Dynamics has developed a framework for uncovering your partner’s needs, and consequently providing you with the information you require to position the value of your organisation and products in terms of benefits, rather than simply advantages.
It’s called the 5C Questioning Framework:
Let’s look at each of these types of questions and the role they play in uncovering partner needs:
Collection Questions are the most basic data capture questions. They are used to collect information about the existing environment.
Examples of Collection Questions could be:
- How many people work in your organisation?
- How many certified technical staff do you have?
- Who are your best, or worst, vendors?
These are obviously important questions because they help you learn more about the partner. They are also the easiest questions to ask, and as a result, sales people tend to ask a lot of them.
The problem is that, although they provide a lot of value to you, they provide little benefit to the person answering the questions. They don’t tell us what the partner’s needs are. Even more of a concern, they may actually annoy the partner if they feel you could have found the answer by reading the front page of their web site.
Which is why it is so important to move to the next type of question as soon as possible.
The role of Challenges Questions is to ask about the problems, dissatisfaction and/or difficulties the partner is currently experiencing.
Examples of Challenges Questions could include:
- What are your main challenges over the next 12 months?
- What are issues you are finding with your other vendors?
- Are there any specific areas in the business where you want to reduce costs?
The key with Challenges Questions is to ask them until you’ve uncovered all the issues. But this is no as easy as it sounds. As salespeople, we hear a customer tell us they have a problem and we automatically want to try and solve it. However, as soon as you launch into how your product will solve a problem, you’ve crossed the line between consultant to sales rep. The consultative salesperson will instead make a note, mention that they will come back to this issue, and then go on to ask more questions to uncover all the other challenges.
So what now? We know all the issues, so that must mean we know the partner’s needs. Surely it’s time to start talking about how our product or service can address these issues. Not quite. There are still another group of questions that you need to ask before you can start talking about your product.
Whereas Challenges Questions uncovered the potential issues that your partner is experiencing, Consequences Questions are designed to help them realise the impact on their organisation if these issues are not addressed.
Examples of Consequences Questions could include:
- What are the consequences (on profit, working capital, customer satisfaction, etc) of this issue?
- Who else in your organisation is affected by this problem?
- How does this impact your relationship with your customers?
The purpose of these questions is to help partners to stop and think about the real consequences of their actions (or of not acting). In effect, they help identify the importance and priority of the partner’s needs. More importantly, they help us to understand the impact on the partner’s customers. As such, Consequences Questions are essential because they create immediacy, and accelerate the motivation for a call to action.
So now we know what the partner’s needs are, and we know how important they are. We can now present our organisation and products in a compelling manner that addresses the partner’s needs – in other words, we can deliver true Benefit statements.
But there are still two other types of questions worth keeping in mind. The first is a category we call Clarification Questions.
Clarification Questions are about asking the partner to clarify back to you what they believe is the value of working with your organisation and products.
- What are the benefits your users would get from this solution?
- How much time/money would you save if we could eliminate this process?
- Would this program also enable you to cut costs in other areas?
The purpose of Clarification Questions is to encourage the partner to articulate the value, and reaffirm their “explicit” need. This achieves two outcomes. Firstly, it helps the partner clarify the value of the solution to themselves and their customers, rather than having a salesperson tell them what they think is valuable. Secondly, it can sometimes help you identify additional benefits that the partner has uncovered that you might not have been aware of.
Because Clarification Questions play such an important role in connecting your value proposition to partner’s (and ultimately to their customer’s) needs, they can be very powerful questions, but they also require time to prepare and deliver effectively.
For situations that require long sales cycles, or an ongoing long-term relationship, closing is not about clever tricks, but rather about using the professional questioning approach described above to build a case for progressing to the next step.
Business partners are sophisticated enough to see through the old sales techniques that starred in movies like Tin Men, Glengarry Glen Ross and the Boiler Room. Chances are, if it’s a documented closing technique (eg. the “Assumptive Close”, the “Yes-set Close”, the “Standing-room-only Close”, the “Puppy Close”, to name a few) your client has probably also heard of it and can spot it a mile away.
As such, professional Closing Questions require the least preparation – they are simple straightforward questions:
- Are you happy for me to propose some ideas to address your needs?
- Once you’re satisfied that our Operations group can meet your expectations on logistics and delivery, what’s the next step?
- If I can send you a quote that covers the points we discussed today, are you happy to present that to your customer?
Closing is not about clever tricks. If we have confirmed the explicit needs of the partner, a Closing Question is a logical next step, and the partner expects you to ask it.
Professional Channel Managers are able to connect with their partners, get a solid understanding of their needs, and present business solutions that benefit both parties. They act more like consultants than sales people. They ask the right questions.
The 5C Questioning Framework is designed to help you ask the right questions so that you can get a better understanding of your partner’s needs. And if you understand your partner’s needs, you can position the value of your organisation and products in terms of benefits, rather than simply advantages.