April 3, 2019

Is the Dan Sullivan Question the mother of all sales questions?

The Dan Sullivan Question is the mother of all sales questions

I believe that the Dan Sullivan Question is one of the gold standards of questioning techniques for sales professionals.

He published this short book in May 2010. I can’t recommend the book enough. I think it’s one of the best kept secrets in South Africa. Whenever I ask delegates on my sales courses if they’ve heard of the question, I seldom get a raised hand.

Here’s the question.

If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life, both personally and professionally.

The Dan Sullivan Question
The Dan Sullivan Question

This is a great opening salvo and immediately gets the prospect thinking. He gets to the nub of the matter which is finding out what the prospect’s dominant buying motive is.

Dominant buying motives comprise of four fundamental human needs: Security, Significance, Fulfilment and Harmony.

In my world; sales optimisation, sales managers have needs and wants (dominant buying motives).

Sales managers need their sales force to perform well and hit its number. The trick is to figure out the sales manager’s ‘why’.

Why is it important for the sales team to reach its targets for the sales manager?

There could be a bunch of under-the-surface reasons why:

  • If the team doesn’t hit its targets, the sales manager might get fired. The consequences would be disastrous: Can’t pay the bond, can’t pay the car, can’t pay the school fees and the like. Marital strain and self-esteem issues will follow. This speaks to our need for security – we have to cover our basics to survive at the very least.
  • The sales manager might want a promotion (to sales director, for example). If the team hits its number the sales manager might have a better chance. This speaks to both security and significance. Typically, with a promotion, there comes a pay increase. This makes the sales manager feel more secure. It also raises the standard of living. Having a higher title (sales director) also speaks to significance and status.
  • The sales manager may want to have more quality family time. If the sales team is performing, the sales manager doesn’t have to work overtime and can spend more time with the family. This speaks to fulfilment and harmony. For most of us, our relationships are one of our highest values and a massive driver for motivation.
  • The sales manager wants to spend time on his/her interests. If for instance, a sales manager was a keen golfer, my question would be, “How often do you play golf?” The answer might be, “Once a month.” My next question would be, “How often would you like to play golf?” Possible answer, “I’d love to play once a week.” I then close it off by asking, “If I could help you achieve your sales targets and get you onto the golf course four times a month, would you be interested?” I’ve nailed the dominant buying motive: golf. Now it’s about self-interest and fulfilment.

The Dan Sullivan Question speaks to all the fundamental human needs: security, significance, fulfilment and harmony.

If we were having this discussion three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life, both personally and professionally. This is not the only question in Dan Sullivan’s repertoire.

He sequences to three more which are absolute genius in terms of building content for your proposal. When you see them, you’ll get that it’s part of the discovery process and you probably use them in one form or another.

DOS Questions

  • What are the dangers that you’re (your organisation) currently facing?
  • What opportunities can you take advantage of?
  • What strengths can you build on?

If you can find three points in each area (danger, opportunity and strength), you have nine points to build a great case for your product or service in your proposal.

You get that this article doesn’t do justice to the brilliance of The Dan Sullivan Question, don’t you? The book is much more nuanced and impactful and is definitely something for you to consider reading.

This question has worked really well for me and I’m convinced that it has helped me close more deals more consistently.

It may work for you too.

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