Barbara Walters...and Sales

Posted by Jack Derby, Head Coach on Thu, May 22, 2014

Did you watch the Barbara Walters special Friday night?

barbara walters resized 600Come on, admit it.  You probably did watch a piece of it.  Whether you like her, or like or dislike her politics, you most likely "grew up" with her whether it was as a rookie reporter on the Today program way back in the Hugh Downs era, or as an opinionated member of The View. As I listened last Friday night to snippets of her countless interviews with every possible celebrity and notorious bad guy, what came across to me most was the manner in which she asks questions.  

"Finish this sentence:  [The person's name] is..."

She has a wonderfully comfortable manner in which she asks these huge, outlandishly simple, open questions somewhere during the middle of her interviews that requires the person being interviewed to look inside themselves and somewhat immediately open up.  She exposes the person individually in a manner in which she is very often able to get right to the core of the person being interviewed.  It's such a simple question, and a question that demands an equally simple and honest answer given the public nature of the person.

"How will history remember you?"/"What do you want people to remember you by?"

Again, an elegantly poised question, typically positioned at the end of her interviews which requires the person to be themselves, to lay open both their heart and their mind and to be honesstly open since the question speaks to the person themselves.

As I sat watching the interviews of this master interviewer, I thought that these are two superb questions for us to consistently ask ourselves as sales professionals. Assuming that we are going to be honest with ourselves, (why shouldn't we, after all?) objective answers to these type of questions possibly posed as "How would your customers describe you?", would be extremely important as to where we needed to improve, and where we needed to add to our personal skill sets.

Would we hear business descriptors of our roles as...  

  • Vendor?
  • Supplier, or strategic supplier?
  • Partner, or better yet, "trusted partner"?
  • adviser, or strategic adviser?

The in-depth answers to these questions and the meaning of the terms often describe the sincerity and depth of our relationships with our customers.  But to get to the point of understanding this, we all need to be excellent interviewers and ask the right questions at the right time.  Plus, we need to make sure that we will listen without prejudice to the answers and respond accordingly.  Perception is reality after all.

Sales Discovery Process Questions


In the world of Sales, this process is known as "Discovery", and we tried to capture a few of the best discovery tactics in this short presentation.  

Certainly, not as good as Barbara Walters's techniques, but definitely a step or two in the right direction. Hope you enjoy it and the overall takeaway of asking simple but probing questions up front during the process.  

Personally, I've also adapted this process not only to my work in sales, but also to my teaching.  At Tufts, where I'm a professor, during the last class before the exam presentations, I always ask "What could we have done better this semester?"  Everyone knows that the question is coming so everyone's prepared. These answers, coupled with both the anonymous online and written submissions by the students, have made a significant difference over the years in the course content and in my delivery.

Just like Barbara, you need to ask all of the necessary questions that allow you to get to the optimum solutions, not leaving anything to chance or interpretation.  In a business setting, as a friend of mine, Wendy Wilson, who was VP of Purchasing for one of the largest computer manufacturers in the country used to tell me..."If I think that I want to do business with you, I'll answer pretty much any question you want me to as long as you ask me only once, and you do it quickly...and, by the way, do me the courtesy of taking notes when I'm answering your questions."  Thanks, Wendy...always good blocking and tackling advice!

Trust that the month is closing in on schedule.  Have a relaxing long weekend!

Keep Selling...and questioning!  

Jack Derby 

Head Coach  

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Tags: sales coaching, Sales Optimization, Sales Best Practices, sales, sales plan process, sales enablement, sales tools, improving sales productivity