In any professional services organization, including accounting firms, the need to develop and grow business is essential. While most CPAs would agree, the word “sales” isn’t very popular with most of the CPAs I know. Why? Probably because we all have had negative experiences with “sales people” at one point in our lives.
I have been in a professional sales role for the last few years. I’ll confess, not until I joined Boomer Consulting did I understand that sales are not about convincing people to buy a product or service. My role at Boomer Consulting is to listen and ask thoughtful and helpful questions that identify the true need or “pain” of my clients and prospective clients. Without understanding the true need or “pain”, I’m unable to truly help.
Over the last 18 months, our organization has gone through Sandler Sales Training to help us gain a better understanding of how we can improve the conversations we have with clients and prospects. One of the Sandler methodologies that has helped our team have better conversations is The Pain Funnel. Simply put, The Pain Funnel helps you think through the types of question you should ask and in which order you should ask them. The methodology works effectively in any conversation, especially when a client or prospect is reaching out with a problem. I believe this methodology can positively impact the conversations you have with your clients and prospects.
When problems or “pain” are initially discussed, they are typically discussed at a surface level. This is a more general or vague statement of a problem. For example, I recently had a client say “I have a manager that needs to step up and lead”. Without knowledge of The Pain Funnel, I would have been tempted to offer a solution immediately. However, I knew that we were only at a Surface Level so I continued to ask the below questions:
- Tell me more... "Well he/she is a good employee but doesn't know how to delegate properly."
- Can you be a bit more specific… maybe give me an example? "This manager is new to his/her position and just gives work to his/her team and expects them to drop everything and finish his/her project."
- What have you tried to do to solve (deal with) it? "Yes we've had a couple of talks with him/her and it works for a while but the issues always seem to comes back."
Once you have a good surface level understanding of the problem, it’s important to drill down and ask questions that provide information about how the client’s or prospect’s business is being effected. Some example questions are:
- Why do you suppose that didn't work? "No real training."
- What (how much) has that cost you? "A lot of time and headaches that I do not need to be dealing with."
- How would this business be affected if this problem wasn’t solved over the next 3 months, 6 months or 12 months? “Negatively.”
Personal reasons are when clients and prospects decide to take action on solving the problem. If you don’t have an understanding of the personal implications of the problem, you don’t have an understanding of why the client or prospect actually wants to do business with you. Although it’s tempting, be careful not to skip directly to asking personal impact questions. Doing so will scare off the person you’re having the conversation with. Personal Reasons questions include:
- How does that affect you directly? “I have to deal with the issue.”"
- How does that make you feel? “Tired and stressed.”
- How will you be effected if this problem isn’t solved over the next 3, 6 or 12 months? “I will be even more stressed if this does not get addressed & fixed soon."
At this point in the conversation, it’s important to take a couple minutes and summarize everything you heard your client or prospect say about their problem. Summarizing usually results in gaining additional insight and information. One question that’s great to ask after you’ve summarized is:
- Is there anything else I should know that would be helpful?
Now is the opportunity to share with the client or prospect the solution(s) you have available to solve their problem. The problem has been thoroughly discussed and you and your client or prospect have a solid understanding of the true pain at hand. This makes the client or prospect more open to hearing your solutions and makes it easier for them to mentally make a decision and take action.
By going through the pain funnel questions, not only are you gaining a better understanding of the problem, you are helping your client or prospect better understand their problem as well.
Sometimes finding the questions to ask is the toughest part. Here is another tool that we use and give to our clients to make it simpler. It's called the Performance Management Questionnaire: https://boomer.box.com/s/q64hu4081qdni993bgvc. By asking your clients these questions, you can dig dipper into the pain funnel and uncover the best possible solution for your client.
Even if you don’t have a perfect solution to their problem, this will build trust faster and establish you as a reliable resource. Don’t wait to begin practicing the pain funnel, start “bringing the pain…funnel” during your next conversation with a client or prospect!