INSIDE Inside Sales – Ep 19: Answering the Hard Questions

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We all know that the world of sales moves at a fast and furious pace. So what should you do when your prospective customer poses difficult questions? Questions that we possibly don’t even have the answers for. It’s in those situations that pressure builds quickly. We want to avoid a faux pas or moments of hesitation that can cause us to draw a blank and put us at risk of losing our sale. Not to worry.

Nick Avossa from Exago joins Darryl on the podcast to discuss just what to do should you ever encounter those difficult questions.


Not in the mood to listen? No problem, you can read the transcriptions below.

 


Host:  Darryl PraillVanillaSoft

Guest: Nick Avossa, Exago, Inc.

 

Darryl Praill: Thank you, Paul, and welcome to another episode of Inside Inside Sales, how are you doing folks, Darryl Praill here as always. Love my show, the only show on the internet, the only show money podcast stretcher you’re ever gonna find that talks solely and exclusively to the sales development rep as we like to say here, no management speak, no vision, no strategy, just hardcore pragmatic real tactical advice that you can action and implement immediately with every single episode and make yourself a more successful, more productive, more capable pro at what you do. Today I’ve got a really cool cat on, you’re gonna like him, his name is Nick Avossa and I’m gonna hope I get that right because I can never get it right.

Darryl Praill: He’s with a pretty cool company called Exago, if you don’t know Exago, they’re in the business intelligence game. That opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities from the SDR point, right, the whole analytics, how am I performing, how’s the team performing. If I did an AB test on whatever it is that I’m doing on the phone, on the email, social, whatever, how does that work, what are the analytics, let me analyze myself, let me continually A/B test myself so that I can continually have better results, better open rates, better close rates, better conversions. And I make a lot more money and I proceed down the road to my career path because I love what I do, but I recognize it’s not easy and I recognize that every little nuance that you fine tune makes me that much more better and that much more marketable in a very aggressive marketplace.

Darryl Praill: So Exago not only is a pretty cool tool, it’s something that you can totally see how you can action for your own selfish purposes as you try to gain power in the pursuit of success. So that’s Exago, Nick, welcome to the show my friend, how are you?

Nick Avossa: I’m doing great Darryl, what an intro.

Darryl Praill: You like that, I totally made it up on the fly, it drives some of the people here that I work with crazy. They absolutely hate that I wing it and I wing it every single time, I don’t have time to write the scripts, I just do random flowing train of thoughts. Sometimes good, sometimes not so much, but there you go, that’s life in Darryl land. Now Nick, you’re an interesting individual especially because of your role, you’re actually not, for context, you’re not a full-fledged on the front line every single day sales rep but you are a sales engineer lead. What does a sales engineer lead do at Exago?

Nick Avossa: A sales engineer lead at Exago is kind of a pivot for the technical sales folks here at our sales team. They have many needs from earliest points of the pipeline all the way to just before signing a contract where the product is involved, where technical concepts are involved, or where highly technical things need to be brought down to not so highly technical terms and that is where our sales engineers find themselves. The lead part just means that I find fun projects to fill the rest of the time to hopefully make our sales process just a little bit better when we’re not on the calls physically.

Darryl Praill: So right about now the audience is saying well Darryl, I’m sure Nick is a fine fellow, but tell me why are we listening to Nick because he’s actually not a full-fledged sales development rep, he’s a sales engineer who works alongside the sales development reps for those complex sales, and that my friends is a wonderful question. Let me give you the answer, because it’s like this, as you all know early on in the sales development process, the initial questions, the Q&A, the back and forth, the to and fro between you and your prospect is somewhat scripted, somewhat subjective, somewhat formulaic. You do it a thousand times a day you become pretty good at it, where it gets hard is when you are on the line with an equally capable technically proficient individual who’s countering you, who’s giving you objections, who’s asking you to prove that your technology is better than somebody else’s technology, your services are more capable than somebody else’s services.

Darryl Praill: And that is the role of the sales engineer, the sales engineer has to answer hard questions and that, well that’s the topic today of what we’re talking about. How to answer those hard questions and that is why Nick is here. Nick, I’ve got to ask you, how hard of questions have you got? Have you got questions that made you go in your mind at least, oh fiddle sticks how the devil am I going to answer this one and still sound credible and not upset my sales colleague but still be truthful and helpful with my prospect, but not lose this sale and keep it moving forward. Have you had that happen I’m guessing once or twice in your career?

Nick Avossa: I’d say it’s probably happened once or twice this week let alone the career, it is a fairly common occurrence.

Darryl Praill: So what do you do, let me ask you, now are you often in the same room because I know we’re in the world of distributed forces anymore, workforces, are you often in the same room with your sales colleagues or not, because that’s important?

Nick Avossa: We’re usually in the same hallway there about, so we have a couple of remote folks, but not necessarily the same room. So, I could run down and make frantic waving arm movements outside their windows but I’m probably not tapping them on the leg.

Darryl Praill: Do you have like an office messaging system like Slack or something that you’re conversing on in real time while these meetings take place?

Nick Avossa: Slack, Zoom, chat, whatever is easiest sometimes. Email can hide away, but yeah, we have a couple of real time means to communicate with one another.

Darryl Praill: And does the messaging, the visual cue’s, the body language when you see each other and when you don’t see each other, the text messages, are they fast and furious like oh my gosh don’t blow this dude, you know, answer this right because this is my commission check you’re messing with and I don’t want to go home and tell my wife I have no bacon this week for the baby.

Nick Avossa: Yeah, it’s fast and furious but all of these folks, at least the ones that I work with, we kind of know where that line is that we’re towing between whose going to approach a certain topic and whose going to approach the other part. Is it the business relationship or is it the actual product and before we get into that fuzzy line we try to make sure we know how to tie that off and it might just be a matter of a quick message, do you want to take this one, no it’s all you, and then we can jump back in it. So, we don’t usually have too much trouble in terms of who should talk at any point in time but the content can be difficult.

Darryl Praill: I know when we were talking about this you raised an interesting point, you talked about how a common mistake you see when people are thinking about how to respond to hard questions, you said people should never assume the prospect is not reading your content, and then you went one step further which was interesting, you said you should know your content better than they do. Talk to me about that?

Nick Avossa: I think this is a … content as just an overarching idea. I think a lot of folks, at least the ones I talk to are in software and seeing this around the same problem but with design. You design something to do something, you picture the way it should work perfectly, you picture exactly how someone is going to use something and they find every conceivable possible way to use it differently than you anticipated. I think documentation and content runs into the same wall, you write an article with the perfect group in mind and you get it out there and somebody reads it and pulls something from it completely different than you intended and challenges you on that content. If all you do is know the title or just the basics of that content and you don’t actually get it, you’re likely going to find yourself at least scratching your head trying to figure out how do I talk about this.

Nick Avossa: We’re talking about two different things even though it’s the same article, so that’s kind of where I was feeling.

Darryl Praill: Do you find your prospects … because it’s the classic case, I mean back up a second, it’s important to understand this, what do our prospects do if they ever talk to us because chances are they’re not going to talk to us until the middle of the funnel, you know. They’ve done their Google searches, they find you as a technology as a service provider, maybe they found you through word of mouth referral, maybe they found you through a review site like G2 Crowd or Capterra. Either way they found you or even if you found them initially before they respond back to you, they are doing this exact same research and they are online and maybe you pass that first initial qualifying call and now they’re doing due diligence.

Darryl Praill: They are drilling down deep because they’re trying to find a reason to say no, that’s what everybody is trying to do, right? Everybody is trying to find a reason to say no, not because they don’t want your product, but they want to make sure that there’s no red flags, they want to make sure that there’s no risk. Part of that is literally reading every single white paper, technical paper, blog post that you’ve written or that you’ve contributed to or shared on social media. So, let me ask you this Nick, do you find your own … whether it be yourself or other sales engineers your mentoring or even just your sales development reps you work alongside. Do you find they know the content or are you having to remind them to know the content?

Nick Avossa: That’s a tough question, it sounds like you’re walking me into that one …

Darryl Praill: I’m not trying to … do not name names okay, so we’ll protect the innocent, we’re just talking big picture here.

Nick Avossa: I think it varies, I think we have a lot of content, I also think looking at our product, looking at what it is we do it’s really wide. Even amongst any of the teams I don’t think anyone at our company particularly knows everything about even the product itself, it’s many many wide reaches at the same problem but the content probably falls into that same ballpark. So I would say myself and others, we know the content is there, we try to consume as much of the content as possible, especially the relevant content and sometimes we miss it, sometimes we don’t see something new or sometimes we didn’t entirely understand what it was we were reading and I’ll include myself in because it’s possible here and you find yourself at this juncture. Somebody asks you a question about something that you wrote, that you posted, that you put out there and now you have to find a way to deal with it.

Darryl Praill: I’m a firm believer for better or for worse, not everybody likes me when I say this to them, sometimes I annoy people, that you are, shall we say the captain of your ship, you know. You are in control as much as possible and if there’s a failure, often it’s because you didn’t have the foresight, so where am I getting at. I’m getting at the fact that every marketing department for the most part does produce a lot of content, some of it’s more technical than others, but if I’m going to be in that front line representing the company, representing the product or the service, I have to have consumed it and if I do not understand it I need to have sought out and in house expert to say explain this to me because if I understand the content … if I understand the content then I understand a lot of secondary and related things.

Darryl Praill: Such as, I understand the messaging that we’re leading going to market and I can reuse the right verbiage and the right catch phrases and the right benefits statements over and over again, so the customer experience on this case, the buyers journey, because they’re not yet a customer, is consistent. That’s the first part. The second part is I start to understand how we differentiate from our competition because that will always be expressed in the content, in the messaging. I can then start to use that as a competitive weapon when I’m trying to differentiate myself in those sales conversations. Third, because I’m familiar with the content and I’ve made the effort, it allows me to recall what content is available so when objections or questions are raised, I know which piece of content to share with the prospect to overcome that objection or to address that objection or to put a check mark besides that box so we can keep the conversation moving forward. Is that your experience, what have you seen whether it be at Exago or anywhere else, when the rep hasn’t made that effort to consume and understand and internalize that content?

Nick Avossa: Well, I can say that I definitely resonate on your perspective on that, so we’re not going to be disagreeing on this one, I agree. I think you kind of have to take your own ship and lead it in the direction you want to go and pick up that content and understand as much as possible and want more from yourself than anyone else does. I agree there, but I’ve seen in situations where maybe that wasn’t the case or you get caught off guard is a lot of dead air. What to do in a moment of hesitation, of fear, and now you are caught, you’re in a corner, you don’t know what to say, your fight or flight is kicking in, and then trying to stammer through or find a way out. That’s what I’ve seen most in those situations, how do I get out of this situation now.

I think you kind of have to take your own ship 🚢 and lead it in the direction you want to go and pick up that content and understand as much as possible and want more from yourself than anyone else does. ~ Nick Avossa Click To Tweet

Darryl Praill: All right, I’m going to get the answer from you on how to get out of that situation, but we’re going to take a quick little break and then when we come back Nick is going to tell us how you get out of that situation. So, stay tuned, we’ll be right back.

Darryl Praill: Okay, we’re back, when we left Nick left us hanging, he was sharing memories of moments that I have personally experienced so many times, the moment of dead air because you were asked a hard question. So, when they ask you a hard question and you don’t know the answer, what’s the response, how do you handle it?

Nick Avossa: I like to say I don’t know but I can find out.

Darryl Praill: Whoa that’s mind breaking, I don’t know, if you say I don’t know isn’t that saying you’re a moron and that you don’t understand the product and you might as well just go out and buy the competitions offering because we’re useless, is that not saying that Nick or is that saying something else?

Nick Avossa: I think it says something else, I think it physically says something else but I think it kind of emotionally says something else. I think the emotional part is more important, it says I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t know, and I can find it out. Those are true statements regardless of what it is you don’t know, you can ask me about brain surgery, I don’t know, I could Google it, but maybe I shouldn’t be the one performing it but I could definitely find out and I feel like that’s a safe move under hesitation under pressure because you always can find out. Especially in a limited market space. We have so much information around our world that we could find out, that we don’t know, so people will trust you when you just tell honestly you don’t know. I don’t think I have ever had a negative response or somebody say really, you didn’t know that when I’ve said I don’t know but I can find out.

I think the emotional part is more important, it says I'm not going to lie to you, I don't know, and I can find it out. People will trust you when you're honest. ✅ ~ Nick Avossa Click To Tweet

Darryl Praill: You nailed it, you nailed it, you nailed it, and this one some people don’t understand and they have this fear and it’s not about fear. In fact, remember what we said early on, we said people are looking to say no, they’re looking for reasons that are flags … why I shouldn’t do business with you. But what they’re also looking for that we didn’t talk about was looking … another way, looking for reasons to trust you because if I’m going to give you money, there’s a lot of eyes looking back and me if I made a bad recommendation or a bad decision with a vendor with technology. So I’m looking for reasons to trust you and the I don’t know delivered properly with sincerity combined with the eventual follow up saying okay, it’s a day later or whatever, here’s the answer I promised to get you, here it is I followed through on my I don’t know builds trust and that trust leads to an eventual deal because they recognize A, you’re human, B, you’re looking out for them, C, you may not always have the answers but you’re going to get them answers.

Darryl Praill: That’s all we ever want in a partner, isn’t it? Is somebody who will work with us, not necessarily someone who has all the answers all the time. The other part that’s interesting and I know we had this conversation is often they’ll ask us a question and we think we understand what they are asking but maybe we don’t. Talk to me about that Nick?

Nick Avossa: I think it’s interesting because I think back to all these different movie scenarios, all these dramatic scenarios where someone asks a question and the direct response is another question and then there’s this faux pas around well don’t answer my question with a question, how dare you, didn’t you listen to me. I think in this situation it’s funny because I was working with a colleague here, I was helping to train for a scenario and he said do you think we can build out a cheat sheet. A bunch of quick answers to questions in demos that could save us, you know, in case of a tough question. I said no, probably not because the way someone asks that question, even if there are a hand full of similar questions but the way someone asks that question or why they’re asking that question is gonna vary every single time.

Nick Avossa: There’s no direct singular answer for one direct singular question because there’s a thousand ways to ask the same question.

Darryl Praill: So how do you get around that, how do you make sure you understand what they’re really asking so you know how to respond?

Nick Avossa: I think you just search for a little bit of clarity, you respond with some context, reiterate some of what was said, make sure that they know you were listening, that they understand what it is you are asking them, but try to reframe it in a way that you feel more comfortable providing a direct response because you could answer the question wrong by making an assumption or you could answer it contextually wrong by answering the wrong question and I think you just want to make sure that you totally understand what it is they were asking before, providing an answer. Now you’re going down a path, now you’re choosing which way you’re gonna go in this scenario and you want to make sure that you’re going the right way. There’s no rush.

It's important to make sure that you totally understand what leads are asking before providing an answer. This helps to ensure you're going down the right path. 🛣 ~ Nick Avossa Click To Tweet

Darryl Praill: So I’ll share a story, it’s not a sales story, it is a relationship story, which sales is relationships, I firmly believe that. Between me and my lovely wife, if anybody ever follows me online on Linked In, you will see that I occasionally post videos where I actually ask my wife questions and she is so sweet and innocent, she is so far removed from my world that you get that best answers that are just common sense. We took this course, it was a marriage course, and it wasn’t a marriage course you go to because your relationship is in trouble, in fact it’s the opposite. It’s your marriage is doing great and you want it to keep on going, so you know every couple of years go away for a weekend and do this course and revisit your relationship.

Darryl Praill: One of the things they were teaching us is communication skills and they taught us how to ask for context, so role play here for a second. She would have said to me something like “oh Darryl I hate when you look at your phone during a meal.” We would have … especially if you’re a dude, if you’re a woman you can think about this and laugh at the dudes, we just want to fix things. So, I’m like okay, I’m not gonna hold and look at my phone anymore, but what they taught us instead is that may not be what she’s really saying, or they are really saying. So you have to kind of repeat the question back to them and ask for clarity, back to your point, so I’m supposed to say “oh sweetheart, you’re saying you dislike when I open and look at my phone when we are together at a meal and you would like me to stop doing that, is that what you’re saying?”

Darryl Praill: And then they can either say yes or no or otherwise but you’re kind of paraphrasing back to them and asking for clarity. You’re not making an assumption of what the question or what the implied action is, you’re asking for context and clarity and when you do that, that stops the confusion and the ambiguity which is usually when a sales deal goes off course. So, I love that you’re talking about never assume that their question is their question. Now what do you do when they’re asking a lot of questions and they have … and they are going off in different directions, how do you know what the top issues are, how do you know to respond when there’s a lot of hard questions?

Nick Avossa: I muted for a second so I wouldn’t laugh over you but it’s amazing how some of these calls go, I’ve had varying sorts. It can be the first call that one of our SDR’s has with someone, it could be all the way at the end of an evaluation or a pilot and we’re just about to try and figure this thing out and someone new comes into the puzzle and they have 100 questions.

Darryl Praill: Yeah.

Nick Avossa: What are they trying to do, they’re trying to do a quick comparison, they’re trying to get a bunch of yes no check boxes, but I firmly believe and I always see that there’s something really important driving the list, there’s some priorities, there’s some reason why there’s a list of questions. There’s something at the top and you just try to pick out what those are, what really finishes this up, you might have 30 but if there was only three, what would they be.

Darryl Praill: So you’re kind of saying … you’re almost forcing them down a certain path, you’re forcing them to say of all this list, I need you to prioritize three, and then you’re not telling them what three. They’re going to pick the three and because they picked it and you try to focus on that, they feel like they are still in control of the situation and that you’re delivering what you’re doing and everybody wins. What happens if they come back and say well there’s more than three, I have 42, like how do you handle that?

Nick Avossa: They almost always do ironically, they always say well I’m not evaluating three criteria, I’m evaluating 50. I say that it could be three, it could be more, you know, just trying to get a handful of things that really drive the focus of why we’re talking in the first place and I guess depending on where in the cycle we are, how early or how late in the whole process we are, the ultimate goal is a little different. Either we’re still trying to figure out what it is you need or we’re trying to figure out why these came up so late, that these new questions, these new items have been introduced, did we miss them, should we have gotten them the first time, did we not have this conversation in the first place or early on. Is this going to change how we deal with you? So, I think it’s just a matter of saying that especially early on, especially with the folks that are listening on this, it’s not that we won’t get to those things.

Nick Avossa: It’s that we need to prioritize what your prioritizing because the entire process, all of this, like you said, is a relationship, it’s communication, it’s making sure that we’re on the same page and if we don’t know what your priorities are, we might focus on the wrong things.

Darryl Praill: Another thing you can do right, is you can segment. In other words, you can say okay so from an administrative point of view whether it be your technology or your stack, what are the top three things you want to focus on. Now from a user’s point of view, what are the top three things that you’re concerned about, now from a management point of view what are the top three outcomes they want to see by implementing my system. So you’re right, it doesn’t have to be three, but what you can do about going back to your question about how a question is never a question and you want to drill down for context and clarity is you can force them to prioritize the list of their needs and their wants contextually around who the actual shall we say, arbiter, is of success. The CEO or the CFO can be the arbiter of an ROI or the user can be the arbiter of I like this tool, it helps me achieve my goals or it doesn’t, or as a technical admin could be the arbiter of this works in place … nice with my tech stack and I get what I want to out of it.

Darryl Praill: So I love that. Now we talked about hard questions, we talked about never assume that they haven’t read your content, never be unprepared. You want to make sure you not only know the content, but never assume that their question is actually the real question, you want to ask context, we’ve talked about helping them prioritize so we can keep the conversation focused. We talked about I don’t know as a viable answer, but what if despite all these tactics you still need help, they’re still pushing you, what do you do?

Nick Avossa: Well that’s why you have guys like me in the team, that’s why you have next steps, there’s always going to be something next. There’s no real end I guess in business, there’s just a different version of the next step so you just have to figure out if it’s worth bringing those people in sooner. I think there’s a real powerful tool in this entire pipeline, it’s just a sense of urgency, the fact that you’re willing to answer something as soon as you can to say you don’t know but to go and grab that person and say I think looking at my teams calendar we can handle this tomorrow at a particular time. Let me grab them, this seems really important to you, let’s make that happen, I think that sticks. I think people remember that you didn’t say I don’t know, we’ll get to it at some point, that you really found a way to validate that it’s important to them and you want to do it as soon as you can, you just have to figure out who the right person is to answer that and how quickly can you get those two folks together.

Darryl Praill: I love it. All right guys, all right girls, everybody in between, sometimes customers ask hard questions and when they do that, that’s an opportunity. Candidly, that’s a buying sign, you need to invest in your own knowledge and in your people and in your processes, you need to control the narrative, you need to control the process to make sure that you can answer those hard questions and Nick, you have been a fountain of knowledge here. We love this and these kind of answers. If I want to learn more about Exago, where do I go Nick?

Nick Avossa: ExagoInc.com, that will get you our basic information.

Darryl Praill: E X A G O I N C, Exagoinc.com. And of course, if we want to follow you in LinkedIn, is that the best way to follow you or is it Twitter or anywhere else?

Nick Avossa: Linked In, I’m there every morning looking at different things, it’s just my name, Nick Avossa. You should be able to find me.

Darryl Praill: And Avossa is spelled A V O S S A, Nick Avossa. All right, so Nick, thank you for your time today and everybody, I hope you got some actionable content out of that and you can bring this knowledge back to your sales development colleagues. If you liked this show, guess what, there’s plenty more where this came from, check out InsideInsideSales.com. If you haven’t, please subscribe, like, follow, review, and share, we’d be grateful, but in the meantime, we wish you wonderful day, take care. We’ll talk to you soon.