Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Babson Entrepreneurs

Strategic Selling for Startups

Pitching and selling: what’s the difference? While they are both important in the life of a startup, they are actually very different and require distinct skill sets. On June 12 and 13, Kate Merritt, owner of KMP Consulting, took some of the Summer Venture Program teams through an intensive B2B Sales Training workshop to help us understand the nuances of consultative selling.

Here are a few of Kate’s insights:

Kate opened the workshop by describing the parts of a sales call. While there are multiple parts to an effective sales call, Kate emphasized that most of your time should be spent exploring buyer needs. Additionally, the buyer should be the one talking 75% of the time.

But, if the buyer is talking that much, how do you as the seller ensure that you get the information that you need and can guide the conversation? You do this with the right questions. As Kate explained, “He who asks the questions controls the conversation.”

Kate introduced us to her Strategic Questioning Model, based on Neil Rackham’s Spin Selling. You should leverage different types of questions to progress the conversation:

  • Situation questions benefit you as the seller. These questions are neutral and the answers are fact-based or detail-based. One important note here: Don’t ask about facts that you should have already found out with research. Be intentional about the situation questions that you ask.
  • Issue questions pertain to the buyer’s problems or concerns. This can be sensitive territory and issue questions can be hard to ask, but they are important.
  • Impact questions take it a step further. If you are able to think on-the-spot, you can probe the implications of the problem for the buyer.
  • Solution questions allow you to explore the ideal outcome for the buyer. Kate stressed, “This is not talking about your solution; this is asking the buyer what the best possible solution looks like.” These questions are designed to understand the buyer’s priorities and buying criteria.

Your conversation will and should naturally integrate all of these question types. There is no pre-determined or required sequence of situation, issue, impact, and solution questions.

Also. keep in mind that phrasing matters. Open questions (questions that can’t be answered with a yes or no) and closed questions (questions that require a yes or a no answer) will yield you very different information.

Don’t be afraid to practice! The SVP teams benefited from practicing during the workshop. They first asked Situation and Issue Questions to our SVP Director Bob Stringer, who played the role of the buyer using a hypothetical situation. Once they were more familiar with the question types, they moved into a longer role-playing exercise and each had the opportunity to sell their specific product to Bob.

Finally, listening is key. Kate explained, “Listening is not waiting to speak and thinking about what we’re going to say next.” If you’re going to ask questions, take full advantage of what the buyer is communicating by listening to their answers and focusing completely.

Thank you Kate, for sharing your B2B sales expertise with our teams!

Interested in following along with SVP? Follow us on Twitter for live updates from sessions with experts, #babsonsvp.