Watch CBSN Live

Are You a Top Sales Pro? Take This Test!

Top sales pros always seem to know exactly what to say when they speak with prospects and customers. The ones who do this make the big bucks; the rest get the scraps.

This post contains five simple sales scenarios. Your job it to pick the message that's most likely to move the sale forward.

Keep track of the number of your correct answers. At the end of the post, you'll find out whether or not you make the grade as a top sales pro... at least when it comes to communicating with prospects.

Click here to start the quiz »

SCENARIO: You're working in a retail store. A potential customer walks into the store. There's hasn't been much traffic today, so you want to do everything possible to make certain that this prospect buys something. Here are your choices:
  • OPENING #1: "Welcome to our store! May I help you?"
  • OPENING #2: "Can I ask a question? Why, out of all the stores in this city, did you decide to come into this one?"
  • OPENING #3: "What will it take get you to buy something today?"

Click for the correct answer »

The correct answer is OPENING #2.
According to to Dr. Earl Taylor, a thirty year employee and master trainer at Dale Carnegie, approach #2 is most likely to prove effective. The reason is simple. It shows real curiosity about the prospect, and leads towards a real conversation.

By contrast, "May I help you?" (#1) is just noise, while "What is will it take..." (#3) is simply annoying. Interestingly, both of these approaches are widely taught in retail sales training classes. Here's some specific advice from Earl on how to make this technique work:

When you meet any customer for the first time, visualize that customer as an honored guest in your home. If you're like most people, when you welcome guests into your home, you are typically glad to see them and you want to make them feel welcome and at ease. While the specifics of what you might say to a customer are different from what you might say to a house guest, the motivation and attitude behind the words should be the same.
Click for the next question »
SCENARIO: You're selling software that helps companies support their own customers. You've been handed a " sales script" that contain two similar core messages for your product. You're told you MUST use either one during your sales conversations, but you are not allowed to improvise. Here are your choices:
  • MESSAGE #1: "With this product, your support staff will be able to get the information they want, when they want it. Your customers will be serviced more quickly, and you'll have 60 percent less downtime. And that means your customers won't be left hanging."
  • MESSAGE #2: "Our software integrates with your back office software. Because of this, we can improve productivity in your support group and reduce your downtime by 60 percent. It is our recommendation, therefore, that you replace your current software with our product."

Click for the correct answer »

The correct answer is MESSAGE #1.
Message #1 is all about the customer and the customer's customers while message #2 is all about the vendor and the vendor's software.

Effective messages are always about the customer, so the easiest way to evaluate a sales message is to examine the pronouns.

Messages that feature the words "you" and "your" tend to be customer-focused. Messages that feature the word "I", "we" and "our" tend to be vendor-focused.

Click for the next question »


SCENARIO: The economy has just experienced a major meltdown. (Hard to imagine, but bear with me here.) You're selling financial services for a medium-sized regional bank. Your customers are primarily small business owners. What message is going to position your firm most effectively? Your choices:
  • MESSAGE #1: "Our customers love to bank with us because of the exceptional way we treat people."
  • MESSAGE #2: "Our bank offers free checking and no monthly fees for overdraft protection."
  • MESSAGE #3: "We've been here for a century...and we'll be here for your great grandchildren."

Click for the correct answer »

The correct answer is... MESSAGE #3. Here's why.

The challenge here is to differentiate by positioning against the competition.

MESSAGE #1 does not differentiate. All banks claim to have good customer service, so the message remains trite and ineffective.

MESSAGE #2 does not differentiate. Features and functions aren't all that important during a financial crisis.

MESSAGE #3 differentiates by positioning the bank against what people DISLIKE MOST about banking, and associated the bank with what they WANT MOST from a bank. Especially during a financial crisis.

What people dislike most about banks is currently tied to current recession. Defining the bank as existing in a continuum -- starting 100 years ago and continuing into the foreseeable future -- disassociates it from today's economic woes. And emphasizing the local character of the bank differentiates it from the big banks (the competition) who are part of the Wall Street and Washington crowd.

At the same time, mentioning a multiple-generation family associates the bank with stability and security, which are exactly what people want from a bank during difficult times.

Click for the next question »


SCENARIO: You've just started an on-site sales call with a C-level customer executive. The handshake and greeting was cordial enough, but as you sit down, you sense a certain coldness. It's crucially important that you establish rapport with this decision-maker. Failure means you'll miss your quarterly quota. You need to break the ice, fast. Here are your options:
  • TACTIC #1: Comment on a knickknack. Notice what's prominently displayed in his office -- a family photo, a souvenir -- and make a thoughtful, respectful remark about it.
  • TACTIC #2: Ask him about his career. Most people like talking about themselves, so inquiring about something in the executive's past experience will definitely warm him up.
  • TACTIC #3: Mention a shared cultural event. You know that he follows local the sports teams. Talking about the big win (or bemoaning the big loss) shows that you're on his team.
  • TACTIC #4: Jump into the sales call. He's probably a cold fish who doesn't want you wasting his time. The best way to get him on your side is to get to the point as quickly as possible.

Click for the correct answer »

The correct answer is: TACTIC #2: Ask him about his career.
These three icebreakers are weak:
  • Comment on a knickknack. While this is a common icebreaker in business environments, almost everybody who comes into that office for the first time has made that exact same remark. You just told the customer that you're unimaginative and boring.
  • Mention a shared cultural event. This might build rapport, but the rapport you're building has nothing to do with the reason for your sales call. When you transition to "selling," there will a jarring disconnect that leaves the customer with the impression that you were only kissing up.
  • Jump into the sales call. Risky. Very risky. In many parts of the country and the world, it's considered bad manners to jump into a business conversation at the beginning of a meeting. This might work in New York City, but it would fall flat in, say, Miami or Los Angeles.
The biggest problem with these three icebreakers is that they suggest you haven't bothered to do any research on the customer and are simply "winging it." (Which -- let's be honest about this -- is probably the case). By contrast, the remaining icebreaker is really quite strong:
  • Ask him about his career. If you ask a perceptive question about a conference where he spoke or a company where he worked, you're showing that you've done your research and cared enough to learn something about the person you're meeting. What's more, you've started building rapport on a business basis, thereby creating a conversation that will more easily lead into a discussion of the problems and opportunities that your offering might address.
Click for the next question »

SCENARIO: You're meeting with a new prospect and are trying to gather information that will help you move the sale forward. Your contact has just announced that she needs to leave for an important appointment, so you only have time to ask one -- and only one -- brief question. Here are your choices:
  • Question #1: "Do you have a budget for this?" Obviously, you don't want to waste time with a customer doesn't have a budget? Therefore, the most important piece of data you need is whether the customer has the money to buy.
  • Question #2: "Are you the budget owner?" If you're going to sell to somebody, it had better be to somebody who has the authority to buy. Therefore, the most important piece of data you need is whether your contact has buying authority.
  • Question #3: "Are you the decision maker?" If you're going to sell to somebody, it had better be to somebody who actually needs your offering. Therefore, the most important piece of data you need is whether your contact will make the buying decision.
  • Question #4: "Whose numbers determine the budget?" If you're going to sell to somebody, you need to know how the prospect's firm operates. Therefore, the most important piece of data you need is how the company's accounting works.

Click for the correct answer »

The correct answer is "Whose numbers determine the budget?" Here's why.

If you ask "Do you have a budget for this?" you may find out whether the money is there, but you haven't found out what's really important, which is who controls it and decides to spend it. This is the worst choice.

If you ask "Are you the budget owner?", you'll probably find out if there's a budget or not, but you won't really understand the players that are likely to make the buying decision as a group. This is better than the previous question, but not by much.

If you ask "Are you the decision maker?", you might find out something useful. However, the real decision-maker may have explicitly told a lower-level person to pretend to be the decision-maker, in order to keep from being bothered by sales reps (meaning you). In addition, middle managers are often reluctant to reveal their lack of decision-making power, even to themselves.

By contrast, if you ask "Whose numbers determine the budget?", you'll find out all sorts of useful information, because the person who controls the numbers is always the decision-maker and always has authority over the budget. More importantly, talking about the budget process doesn't threaten the middle-manager's ego nearly as much as a question that infers that he or she lacks decision-making power or control over the budget.

Click for final scoring »

  • 1-2 Correct answers. You're either a novice sales pro, or have some very odd ideas about how to succeed in sales.
  • 3 Correct answers. You're about average, sad to say. That means that you'll probably be getting about 20 percent of the sales in your firm.
  • 4-5 Correct answers. Congratulations! You understand how to communicate with customers in ways that help move the sale forward.
READERS: Feel free to argue about my "correct" answers. I'm pretty confident that they're the right ones, though.