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How to Listen to Discover, with Paul Cherry [Episode 341]

Joining me on this episode of Accelerate! is my guest Paul Cherry. Paul is President of Performance Based Results, LLC, the author of Questions that Sell: The Powerful Process for Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants, and has a new book coming up called, The Closer: Be The Successful Sales Pro, Steal the Lead, Seal the Deal. Among the many topics that Paul and I discuss are the purpose of listening for discovery and how the fate of a sale can depend on a question.

Key Takeaways

  • After public sector work, Paul moved to Yellow Page sales and called on all types of companies. He then ran training for a business, and finally, he built his own company, 15 years ago.
  • What is the rationale for discovering your clients’ aspirations?
  • Paul reveals a case where his probing turned an invitation for a one-hour presentation into a lucrative engagement with the C-suite.
  • How do you empower yourself and your customer, as a team, to help meet their needs?
  • What is the objective of engaging the customer in a ‘compare and contrast’ discussion of their history and plans?
  • How to effectively use open-ended questions.
  • The best place to keep your phone, laptop or tablet during an introductory meeting.
  • The key questions that can cut through layers of rationalization to get to the prospect’s true intent.
  • What is the role of the “killer question”?
  • Learn how the right questions help turn the prospect’s concern away from price, and towards value.
  • Paul explains how The Closer helps sales professionals to manage account relationships.
  • What’s the difference between enabling and empowering?

More About Paul Cherry

What’s your most powerful sales attribute?

The ability to listen and understand.

Who is your sales role model?

Wayne Dyer.

What’s one book that every salesperson should read?

How to Become a Rainmaker: The Rules for Getting and Keeping Customers and Clients, by Jeffrey J. Fox, and Spin Selling, by Neil Rackham.

What music is on your playlist right now?

Music from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

Episode Transcript

ANDY PAUL: It’s time to accelerate. Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership management, training, coaching, and any other resource that I believe will help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you. Hello and welcome to Accelerate. Joining me on the show today is Paul Cherry. Paul is president of Performance-Based Results and the author of Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process For Discovering What Your Customer Really Wants. He has a new book coming up called The Closer: Be The Successful Sales Pro. Paul Cherry, welcome to Accelerate.

PAUL CHERRY: Thank you, Andy. It’s a pleasure to be here.

AP: So take a minute and introduce yourself. How’d you get your start in sales?

PC: Well, I ended up getting a master’s degree in Public Administration and I did a six-month stint for the state government of Delaware and I realized after dealing with the bureaucracy and limitations, I wanted to get in the private sector. My dad sold for 35 years and I thought what better thing to do than to follow in his footsteps and to get in sales. I started with the Bell Telephone Company at the time, before the days of the internet. In its heyday, it was just a wonderful opportunity. I got the call on every type of organization, from a one-person startup to Fortune 500 companies. I did that for five years. It was just wonderful to get exposed to all the selling concepts and phenomenal training.

AP: What was the impetus to start your own company?

PC: Well, I worked for a major training organization, and it was in the publishing field. We were a small entity, and after doing that for five years, the leads were drying up. The owner of the company said, “I think we’re going to be shutting down the training organization” So I said, “Okay, well, is there going to be any kind of pay or support afterwards?” There wasn’t, it was going to be me on my own. So I had two choices: Go home and drink or get on the phone and start making calls. And I chose the latter. I made calls and introduced myself to all my established customers and new customers. I doubled my revenue, and if there’s only one regret, I wish the owner would have told me that they would have ended it sooner. So from there, I’ve been doing this for 15 years on my own. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful opportunity.

AP: So what type of companies do you primarily work with?

PC: I worked with more than 1200 innovations to date in every major industry. Primarily I work in the business realm, and my area of expertise is all about advanced probing and advanced engagement strategies. That is asking questions and listening for what customers are saying, what they’re not saying, and what the hidden agenda or motivation is in order to get to the heart of the sale?

AP: So what are the keys to advanced probing and advanced discovery?

PC: That’s a great question. In the 1200 organizations that I’ve worked with to date, and the training programs that I put them through, here’s what happens. We get salespeople to break into small groups and I say, “Okay, on your flip chart, write down all the questions that you ask your customers and prospects regularly. They can be those first-time calls. Typically, the questions are, “How are you? How’s it going? How’s the family? How’s business? What projects do you have coming up? How are we doing? How happy are you? Are there any problems, any needs, any challenges, budget goals, wants?” My point here is they’re asking all these typical common questions, questions that every salesperson is asking in their industry. If you think about that, Andy, where does a typical customer prefer to be? In the future. So are two things that salespeople need to be thinking about stop asking so many questions that are in the present, because what are you doing is you’re groveling, fishing, and moping. So think more about taking well into the future, and I don’t mean just in six months or even a year, but three to five years.

AP: I agree with where you’re heading on this. Too often salespeople are trained that they should be talking about the pain point, which is the present or the past, as opposed to what the customer wants to achieve. What are their objectives? Salespeople need to be asking about the things that are more aspirational, which is really where a company is driving towards.

PC: Yes, that is very important to understand people’s aspirations. Let me give you an example: A major manufacturing firm that was a client of mine about two and a half years ago, called me up and said, “Paul, you worked with one of the sister companies we worked with, and we are bringing our people together for an annual meeting. We would like to know if you’re going to be available on the 15th of January?” Well, I looked at my calendar, and I said, “Yes, as a matter of fact. What do you want me to talk about? How many people are we talking about? How long is the program for? What’s the budget?” By the time I got to the fourth question, here’s a couple of challenges that were occurring: I was getting one-word or two-word answers. Number two, when I got to that fourth question, I realized that person was actually shutting down to the point. I felt like I was interrogating this person and there was some hesitancy. I realized that I needed to back away from asking these types of questions. They have a purpose and a point. But I said, “You know what, let me step back here. Let me understand the bigger picture before we go any further.” So my next question was, “Tell me some of the things about where you see you and your organization and where you’d like to be three to five years from now.” Things happen when they acknowledge it and then they start talking. This person starts talking for literally four to five minutes straight. “I want to hire new people, expand branches overseas, opportunities, isn’t it time to market and outsmart in the competitors?” Then I said, “Wait let’s talk a little bit about the past. Where were things a year ago and beyond?” Then there was a little bit of silence. He says, “You know, Paul, a year ago, things weren’t too good. We got into this litigation issue. As a result, we lost the opportunity to get the patent. We had to close some plants and lay off some people. As a result, we must have been 38% off our goals.” My last question was, “Help me understand something here based on what you’ve shared with me. Tell me, what’s the potential impact on you and your organization if you don’t achieve the goals you just shared with me?” What do you think his answer was? “I’ll probably be without a job.” I got to the heart of the matter then, which was that it was about job security. I knew then that it wasn’t about hiring somebody to come in to do a one day or one hour program, what it was really about was ensuring the security for that company, the people, and himself. I was able to come back to him and say, “You know, in fairness to your organization, for me to come in and talk for an hour, you might be wasting your time and resources.” This forced him to ask me a question: “What do you think I should do?” Isn’t that what we want our customers and our prospects to do? Don’t we want them to really engage and listen? I said, “In fairness to you and your organization, I don’t know. But what we need to do is come in, sit down for a couple of days, meet your C suite team, your management team, your operations team, your services and support, and find out some of the issues and challenges and then we can make some recommendations.” That person turned out to be our most lucrative, profitable customer. My point here is that when we listen to engage and understand, it puts us in a position of authority, strength, and power. It empowers us and our customers. Don’t always give people what they want, give them what they need. That’s what I try to convey with people as I get deeper with your customers.

AP: So what are some of the key questioning techniques you used for them? I’m sure it’s a common problem for people listening to the show. What can you share with them?

PC: So as I was alluding to in the beginning, anybody can do this. Go ahead and just come up with your 10 most common questions you ask customers. You’ll see that the majority of the questions are who/what/where/when/why, which is fine. But shake things up. You’ll also see that the majority of the questions are in the present. Explore more into the future. It’s real simple questions. It’s like this, “As you look to 2017 and beyond, tell me where you see things going? As you look back on last year, what’s different? What’s changed? I think those are very powerful ways to really understand connecting with people. It’s all based on time comparisons. Then we’re not locked into just the present. So what you were telling me, we tap into aspirations, goals, needs, desires, but we also get more into history because history is the window to the future.

AP: Well, I think what you’re doing is identifying the gaps between where they are and where they want to be. That’s where the opportunity is – in the gaps.

RS: Yes. What we find is 3%-4% of the time, salespeople ask questions in the past. Why do you think they don’t ask many questions in the past?

AP: I would have said more based on what you’re saying. That seems small, I would have expected you to say 90% of the questions are focused on the past or the present.

PC: Typically 85 to 87% of the time, they are in the present. Rarely do salespeople spend much time in the past and the reason is it’s history, it’s closed, it’s done. I can’t make money in the past, I can only make money in the future. A lot of times they don’t focus on the past. I challenge salespeople and encourage them to get more to the past. Why? Because that’s where you understand all about the past challenges, frustrations, their values, the organizational dynamics, the political hurdles, all the things that were in the past. So that’s what salespeople need to focus more on.

AP: So you’re creating a context for where they want to go based on what’s happened in the past. I mean, the present without destroying the past. So yeah, that makes sense.

PC: There you go. So what I would say is, they should just understand that and just shake up their questions a little bit more, instead of just the who/what/why/when/where. I’ll give you an example in the form of an extreme question. “Are you the decision-maker?” Is that a closed-ended or open-ended question? Closed, right. Is that an important question to ask? Probably. Would the question come across as a little bit offensive, intimidating, or belittling to somebody? It could be. My recommendation is that people should get away from some of the closed-ended questions and focus more on the open-ended questions. So a descriptive opener would be “Describe for me the decision-making process.” That’s all just by tweaking the front end of the questions to make them more engaging. So I encourage the listeners to explore those questions.

AP: So is the challenge getting sales professionals to really ask these questions or is it getting them to ask questions in general?

PC: Here’s the litmus test of a good sales call. Who did most of the talking? If the salesperson did most of the talking, guess what? Not a good sales call. If the customer did most of the talking, great sales call. We want to encourage salespeople to spend more time getting the customer talking. Just about half an hour ago, I got an email for a program we’re putting together for a client. He says one of their number one objectives is that they want to create a more powerful, persuasive presentation that’s going to create a sense of urgency for our customers. So what do they do? I looked at their presentation, their PowerPoint, 40 slides and I’m thinking, “Guess who’s doing all the talking in these presentations?” This is a first-time call, and you’re just you’re setting yourself up for failure when you’re going in on a first time call with 40 slides.

AP: Well, the ideal answer is that I should have no slides on that first call.

PC: Haha, isn’t that right? So that’s the challenge is trying to get them out of the mindset of that they always feel that they have to get into the solution mode. I understand getting the solution mode because it’s to convey that credibility. That should be something you’re spending 3-5 minutes on with a good, powerful, persuasive opening statement. It should be enough to convey the credibility, who you are, your industry expertise, the type of clients that you work with, and maybe one or two stories, but then you’ve got to shift into whatever’s next. That’s when you’ve got to shift into the discovery phases. Enough about me, I’m here to learn about you and your organization, your customers.

AP: If the rep walks in and the first action of the rep is to open their laptop and connected to a projector, then you’re already sunk.

PC: It is and salespeople understand the need to ask and engage and understand and listen. As soon as we do our training sessions, the next day they go out in the field and make calls. Guess what happens? The salespeople typically revert to some of their previous condition habits. These are just hard habits to break. Now there’s a reason, it was a comfort level.

AP: Why don’t you tell them to leave their laptops or their tablets in the car?

PC: That’s exactly what we do. It’s a challenge for them. A lot of times they just have a fight with me but the light bulbs go on when we go out into the field and do exactly that, because it becomes more effective because it’s not about you. It’s about your customers. The most important job of a salesperson is the time that they spend either face to face or on the phone with the customers, so it had better be a good quality conversation. You can only ask so many questions, so you had better ask the right questions – powerful, persuasive questions. Even more importantly, you had better listen. Listen for what the customer is saying so they don’t go in contrived. Listen to the customer’s needs, frustrations, and challenges, and go down that path to understand them and listen to them.

AP: Listening is hard, right? People are distracted, people are thinking about that next question they’re going to ask instead of being present and really just focusing on what the customer is telling them.

PC: Put yourself into the present. That customer is talking about, for example, alternative options to better grow their business. We listen to that. Some salespeople are going to hear that as a buying signal, right? So what are they going to start doing next? Start talking, presenting ideas, and giving some solutions. A good salesperson is going to say, “I heard some interesting information out of that statement. What are the words that I can lock on to?” The word I’d be locking on to would be “thinking.” I’d say, “Tell me more about your thought process. Tell me about the criteria that you have in mind to ensure you achieve the right outcome.”

AP: Well, the key part of that was really “tell me more.” It can be incredible.

PC: It can be as long as you don’t overdo it.

AP Yeah. It can’t be a two-year-old asking, “Why? Why?”

PC: Yes. Go back to the listening, though, because I’ll even ask you this. Andy, what was the first word I gave in that statement?

AP: You got me.

PC: You’re not alone. You’re not alone. The word was wait. Okay. So what does that give me a clue to? Other people involved. Other decision-makers and influencers. So my other question based on that same statement would be, “Who else is involved in contributing to these ideas? Tell me your criteria, what’s important, and tell me what others are thinking.” See, I need to understand that decision-making process, the buying criteria, the motivation. They said the word “thinking.” What does thinking mean? Thinking means considering or entertaining. We might do something. They’re not ready to take action. So I challenge salespeople that when you hear those kinds of clues, there’s a desire there’s a motivation, there’s a need, but it sounds like that person isn’t ready to take action. I need to dive deeper, understand what it is because when I’m going to present a solution, it better be meaningful, it better be impactful and it better hit the hardest matters. When I step away – assuming it’s a complicated multi-step sales process, and I’m not going to close – I have to have a call to action or a next step.

AP: Right, but one of the issues that we still get into with sales professionals, especially in b2b spaces, is that the questions are fairly routine. In my books, I talk about what I call a “killer question,” which is a question that forces the prospect to stop and think. It’s something they didn’t expect. Through the question, what you’re doing is you’re telling the customer something about their business they don’t know but should.

PC: I like that. Could you give me an example?

AP: It could just be an insight into their industry or the way other companies are investing similarly to achieve certain value propositions or certain outcomes. it’s something that goes outside the linear sort of thought process. There’s sort of a common thought process. You could be asking the right questions, but they’ll still be pretty similar to the questions somebody similarly equipped for another company might have been asking. You know, the killer question is one of the questions you’re asking that they hadn’t been thinking they were gonna get.

PC: Yes, that’s it. That’s it. That’s where people screw it up because you’ll hear the word “verbiage consultative selling,” and to me, it’s just spewing information. But you’re absolutely right. According to the Gallup Organization, customers are 12 times more likely to buy and to continue to buy if you can create an emotional connection. What we’re talking about is making people think about things they’ve never thought about before and step out of their comfort zone.

AP: I would go so far as to say people won’t make a decision to buy it without making an emotional connection.

PC: Yeah, but getting to the heart of the matter. I’m working with a client who has a half-million dollar managing account, and I said, “Okay, what exactly is this person’s motivations? I don’t know, but we have a great relationship.” You don’t know the motivations and aspirations where they see themselves three to five years in terms of their career. It sounds like you’ve got to get deeper into these relationships. Have that emotional connection. Let me give you an example: We were working with a medical device company, and we were going out in the field after a training. We called on the CEO, a doctor of a surgery center and 10 seconds into the conversation, the CEO doctor says, “Why do I want to buy from you? You’re at least $10,000 more than your competition and your technology is inferior.” Imagine that, I mean, how do you respond to that? And the salesperson just did a beautiful job because he said “Doctor, I appreciate you sharing that with me. But let me do this. Let me ask you some questions to better understand.” That is the criteria that is important to ensure that you achieve the right outcome. Then the doctor started talking about criteria that was important and that was basically minimizing risk, operating on more patients on a daily basis, the ease of use, and less labor. So he said, “Okay, let’s talk about minimizing risk. When it comes to the newer technology, there’s a learning curve, which means that there’s always a risk. If that needle were just a fraction off of where it needs to be, what’s the implication of that on your business? The doctor said, “You’re crazy. You’re talking multi-million dollar loss.” The salesperson said, “So let’s talk about patients. With the newer technology, there’s a startup time and there’s downtime with each patient. So how many patients with the current technology can you operate on versus the newer technology?” He said, “Well, probably 10 patients with the existing and with the newer technology maybe eight?” What’s that mean in terms of reimbursement for each patient? About $1,000 a patient so that’s $2,000 a day right? What’s that over the course of a week? 10,000. Over the month? 40,000. Over a year, it’d be almost a half a million dollars. Last question was, “Let’s talk about with existing technology. How many clinicians does it take to run the existing versus the newer ones?” They only needed the existing one clinician for the existing system but needed two for the new one. So what’s the cost to hiring and tracking and retaining an additional clinician on this app? 45 minutes later, what do you think the salesperson walked away with? He walked away with a PO because he got the doctor to think “Getting away from the inferior technology and the price, I understand the value and the return on investment. I understand the ease of use, the minimized risk, and just achieving the right outcome.” So it’s making people think. Take them outside of their comfort zone and look at things in a bigger perspective. Good salespeople do that.

AP: Alright, so let’s talk about your new book, The Closer. So what’s the premise of this book?

PC: The Closer is all about managing relationships, right? Salespeople are really good about developing relationships, but this book is all about managing the relationship. That’s hard for some salespeople. There’s a time where there’s the honeymoon phase, where everybody feels good. They like each other’s products or new solutions, whatever. Then as things continue to progress, things might get a little bit rocky. So you’ll see this, for example, in certain environments, especially when we’re dealing with what we call dealers, distributors, or independent reps. Hmm, well, you’re trying to manage them. So in other words, you bring on a distributor, they agreed that they’re going to sell for the first year, they’re going to take on this line, and they’re going to achieve $500,000 for, let’s say, the first year. So past the honeymoon phase, you realize you’re getting into six months, maybe it’s the seventh or eighth month and you realize, what’s going on here? I know, they’re about 25% of their goals. And now it’s like, Okay, what do you do? Do you beg? Do you plead? Do you provide additional resources and support? You know, you can try all those avenues. There are other situations where salespeople step in and have sort of that difficult conversation only for that distributor dealer or independent relationship to say, “Well, you know, the economy isn’t doing that well or customers are a little cautious this year or it’s the elections at this time. So it’s just not a good time or, you know, I got other challenges, the priorities that I have or this or that. What we’re doing in this book is how we actually manage the goals, the performance expectations to ensure that customers stay committed, stay focused, and be accountable for their actions, so they can minimize or eliminate some of these kinds of difficult conversations that take place down the road? Does that make sense?

AP: Give me some meat in terms of what that would look like.

PC: So one of the things would be as we were just working with a salesperson on this very same issue, the dealer started complaining about how it was the market, it was in the agricultural marketplace. He was saying because of the commodity prices being down, things were moving, so it was really out of his control. So he got into engaging the customer and he said, “Okay, I understand where you’re coming from. I realize that it’s going to be a challenge. You’ve been in business for over 30 years, and these are the kinds of things that have served us in the past. Tell me how you feel in the past.” See, so what was he doing? He was getting him to reflect on past actions, when he had similar hurdles and challenges. What did he do under those circumstances? He started talking about a strategy where they could work together to get these numbers off. He said, “Tell me, what are some things that you can do between now and the end of the year to ensure that you’re going to achieve the right outcome?” So the customer said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, what are some things you’re going to do in terms of advertising? What are some things you’re going to do to actually visit some customers? Schedule some appointments, go out in the field, go out and actually have trade shows.” These kinds of things challenge the customer to step up to the plate. That’s what he was doing. He was finding out with this particular dealer distributor that this was somebody who was very much accustomed to sitting by the phone and waiting on it to ring. His salesforce was in the reactive mode, so he had to challenge them to get more into the proactive mode. It was shifting gears and putting some responsibility on them on this particular dealer and taking ownership. That’s an important thing. We get our customers to step up to the plate and talk about action steps in terms of the time, money, resources, opportunity that they’re going to commit to, right. That’s an important step before we step in and say “how can we help you” because what do you think somebody’s going to say? “Well give me more of this, give me more resources, cut your pricing. Give me more incentives, cut back my goals, this or that.” All of a sudden, there’s a risk there because then I start enabling somebody and not empowering my customer.


Managing what I call those key strategic accounts is just as important, because salespeople will get into a key account, and they’ll get comfortable with certain relationships. They become very deep and embedded. They really don’t want to be calling out all of the people in the organization because they may step on their toes. We’ve all heard that right? What do we do? The point is, if you have a really good relationship with certain contacts in that organization, you would think a good relationship would want to open up doors of opportunity for you. Yet, my point here is that when it comes to managing these key accounts is we need to find ways to get these individuals to open up the doors of opportunity. Why? We’re there to make them look good. We’re there to give them recognition, appreciation, a vehicle, a voice, greater resources, support, ideas, or whatever. People who have trust, where they really do feel we’re bringing credibility, understanding, and the ability to impact their lives personally and professionally, are going to want to open up the doors. You’ve got to be respectful under those circumstances and not step on the toes. However, what we can do is, we can still ask the questions to gain insight into their relationships with others.

AP: Okay, good. Paul, we’re coming to the last segment of the show where I’ve got some standard questions I asked all my guests. The first one is a hypothetical scenario in which you have just been hired as VP of sales at a company whose sales have stalled out. The CEO is anxious to get things turned around, so during your first week on the job, what two things could you do that would have the biggest impact?

PC: I need to find out why is there a stall? All right? We need to understand and I’m going to get to the heart of the matter. So we’re going to be understanding our customers, internal and external. So we’re going to be having face to face and phone conversations with both parties to get to the heart of the matter to find out what the issue is. Is it a skill issue? Is it some sort of market condition issue? So I can’t take any action until I understand. All right.

AP: All right. Sounds good. So some rapid-fire questions for you. You can give me one or two answers or elaborate if you wish. So when you are out selling your services, what’s your most powerful sales attribute?

PC: My most powerful trait is the ability to listen and understand. That’s it. I find that the key is that I’m going to ask the right questions to connect with people and find the emotional drivers. Are they looking to minimize the risk? Are they looking to gain a competitive edge? Are they looking to be more profitable? Are they looking to simplify their lives?

AP: Next question: Who’s your sales role model?

PC: I would say. Wayne Dwyer. I’ll say him. Yeah. Okay.

AP: Besides any of your own What’s one book you’d recommend every salesperson read?

PC: How To Be A Rainmaker by Jeffrey Fox. I really enjoyed that book. Also, Spin Selling by Neil Rackham.

AP: Okay. Last question. What music is on your playlist right now?

PC: Now I’m sort of an old doggy when it comes to music. I actually really enjoy the 50s, 60s, and 70s music.

AP: That’s always fun. All right, well, good. Well, Paul, thanks for being on the show today. Tell folks how they can connect with you and learn more about you.

PC: You can reach us at pbresults.com. Send us an email, contact us, visit us, and I’d be glad to brainstorm any particular questions that you have and see if we’re a good fit to achieve your goals.

AP: Well, again, thanks for being on the show. And remember, friends, make it a part of your day every day to deliberately learn something new to help you accelerate your success. An easy way to do that is to take a minute and subscribe to this podcast, Accelerate. That way you won’t miss any of my conversations with top business experts like my guest today Paul Cherry, who shared his expertise about how to accelerate the growth of your business. So thanks for joining me. Until next time, this is Andy Paul. Good selling everyone. Thanks for listening to the show. If you liked what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast. on iTunes or stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at andypaul.com