John O' Gorman

The Top 10 Most Revealing Deal Questions

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Imagine you are asked as a sales manager to evaluate a key deal.  How many pieces of information would you need in order to assess the likelihood of the deal closing as forecast?  In this insight we will examine the most revealing questions to ask about a forecast opportunity.

What information do you need to assess the likelihood of a deal closing as forecast?

Sales people are optimists by nature – a tendency that their managers keep in check with a healthy dose of cynicism.  Access to accurate and up-to-date information is vital, even if some of that information could prove to be disturbing.  This is the case for example with sales prospect lists that, unless culled regularly, increasingly reflect sales person aspirations as opposed to buyer intentions.  Creating your list of powerful questions to validate deal forecasts is key.

Do you have a checklist of questions to ask to assess the likelihood of a particular deal closing as forecast?   Well, most managers do, perhaps not on paper, but in their heads.  With this in mind we set about creating the TOP 10 list of questions to validate any deal forecast.  Maybe it will highlight some additional questions you can add to your arsenal.

BANT Questions

The first 4 questions on the list are almost universal – they won’t come as any surprise.  They relate to the familiar BANT or Budget, Authority, Need and Timing.   

Most managers start with a BANT baseline to analyze any deal in the pipeline. That means in our Top 10 list of most revealing deal questions, the first 4 are the ‘no-brainers’:

1. Budget: What budget does it come out of? What size it is?

2. Authority: Who has ultimate power to sign off and who must be consulted along the way? What is the level of authority of your sponsor?

3. Timing:  What is the planned go ahead date? How realistic is it?

4. Needs:  How does our solution meet their needs better than the competition (in the eyes of the buyer)?

However, most managers don’t stop at BANT.  They typically add a couple of more questions on top – that is a tacid recognition that BANT is no longer enough to fully validate an opportunity and its probability or timing.  With the first 4 questions out of the way, there is 6 more left to go.

What in addition to BANT do you need to know before you could put your name to a deal forecast?

The Rest Of The Questions

With the BANT questions covered, it is time to drill deeper. Below is the rest of the top 10 questions with a narrative as to why each question is important.

5. How complex, or risky is the decision for them?
As one manager put it ‘this question reveals a lot – if it is complex, new and risky – then a slower decision and indeed a different set of behaviors generally is to be expected’

6. Do the numbers stack up for the buyer? – Is the economic argument clear and compelling – the business case – the costs and benefits?
There are three reasons why this question appears on the list:
– Because today’s buyers are increasingly driven by numbers
– Because it reveals the extent to which we have been able to move the conversation off price and on to value
– Because final sign off increasingly depends on an economic justification or business case

7. How does the purchase fit with what the business, department, team or project is trying to achieve?
This question goes to the core of what the buyer is trying to achieve and opens the way to discussing how our solution helps them to reach their own definition of success in relation to the decision.

8. What risks does the buyer see? Are there risks that he/she does not see?
A risk related question is a must for any opportunity review. That is because risk is a key reason why deals stumble and stall. It could be risk in any of its forms: supplier, technical, project, and so on.

9. What stage are they at in their buying process and what else needs to happen before a decision gets made? In particular what are the requirements of getting the purchase approved or sanctioned internally?
In large organizations in particular, buying decisions are governed by rules and regulations. There are procedures to be followed – for example a competitive tender may be mandated. It is important to know what steps the buyer must follow and what step the buyer is at in the process – that determines how long it is going to take.

10. What is the role and power of procurement?
The age of avoiding procurement is over. Procurement is ‘the elephant in the room’ – knowing what power they have, how likely are they to turn up and their past form is important.

Who is on the buying team (i.e all those who make or shape the buying decision)? How many of them we have had contact with? How many are pro, neutral, or against?

What are the pieces of information that you need to be able to forecast the probability, value and timing of a deal? 

Is 10 Questions Enough?

That is a top 10, but is 10 questions enough?  Well, for example, question 11 would probably be:

11. What is the competition?

There are two levels at which this question is applied:
(a) Are there any competing projects, or priorities? In this context it is important to know how powerful the project sponsor, or main supporter is and what the internal politics may be involved.

(b) The second is the traditional notion of competitors: Who else are they talking to? Is there an incumbent? What do the buying team perceive as our strengths and weaknesses relative to the competitors?

You yourself can probably think of a number 12 and a number 13 and we certainly would like to hear them.

Managers often point out that the questions asked depend on the stage of the deal – they recognize that in respect of an early stage opportunity information may be limited. For a deal that is advanced they will expect the salesperson to able to answer more questions. 

Managers often point out that a conversation rather than a quiz is required.  That is because the seller’s overall demeanor, facial expression and tone of voice are an important part of the manager’s ‘total picture’ of the deal.

Many suggest that questions about the opportunity owner are as important as questions about the deal itself. For example, ‘What is the salesperson’s closing success?’ or ‘Typically how accurate are their forecasts?’   However we have kept this list focused on the deal.

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