Top 5 New Business/Sales Interview Questions Answered

SagePresence teaches how to respond to tough questions in sales and new business presentations.After a recent presentation on interviewing skills, SagePresence received five additional questions about sales presentations. The questions were so good, we wanted to share them — and our answers — with you.

#5: Terrence P. asked: “When the prospect wants something they can’t afford, what is an appropriate way to say, ‘Well, that’s out of scope?'”

Terrence, the first step in getting to ‘no’ is ‘yes!’ What you want to do is acknowledge and affirm what they want even if they can’t have it. It’s a good thing, just out of scope.

Next, see if you can address the problem in another way: Say it’s an interview for a hospital project, and the prospect has been hoping for a brand new front entry in a different place, but the budget doesn’t allow for it. Speak to the problems and outcomes a new front entry would represent, and address them with solutions that are in scope.

“There’s been some exciting talk about a new front entry, and what it would do for you. Right now your patients get confused trying to find the entry, and when they do, they walk into an uninspiring first impression. We see how a new, highly visible front entry would elevate first impressions of your brand. Right now the budget doesn’t allow for a new entry, but it‘s still possible to create a better experience with some way-finding improvements and signage to make the entry easier to find. And we’re really excited to show you three interior improvements you can afford that will elevate the first impressions of your facility from the moment you enter.

#4: Janette W. asked: “How do you ask what work a prospect has coming up without being so blunt?

This is actually pretty easy to do once you see the story structure of a business development (BD) conversation. Story goes from problematic beginnings to happier ending situations as the result of solutions. Instead of playing the role of a pushy salesperson, play the role of a consultant inquiring about the problems they have now and goals they have. I like questions like, “What’s going on for you right now?” which opens the door for them to share problems. I like questions like, “What’s the new vision?” which invites them to talk about the future they want. Together, problems and goals justify dialogue about solutions, some of which you may happen to offer, keeping their focus on where they’re trying to go, which makes it easy to talk about what projects could be coming to get there.

#3: Glen S. asked: “How can I be persuasive when the prospect shuts down my ideas, even when it’s in their best interest? Example: working with a local fire department who doesn’t want windows in a training room, despite the fact that a windowless room is an aesthetic mistake that lacks flexibility to future needs.”

People don’t always know what they need. So you have to meet them where they are before taking them anywhere new. Affirm their position so they feel heard and understood. Then take them somewhere else. It might sound something like this: “I love the way you use this room right now. It’s mostly for viewing training videos, like a theater. And the last thing you’d want to do is spend money adding windows you don’t need. On the flip side, your RFP describes this renovation as a ‘long-range solution’ addressing the needs of the future. So we took the time to research the ten most likely future uses projected for fire department training rooms over the next fifteen years. We’re excited to propose a solution that balances today’s needs with future uses, in an approach that has windows for daylight with the ability to achieve total black-out for viewing training films.”

#2: Rosa Z. asked: “Sometimes I receive a question or challenge when I’m not the one with the authority on the matter. How do I tell them I’m not the one in charge, without looking weak, or as though I’m passing the buck?”

Don’t kill the messenger — right, Rosa? Sometimes the position you’re presenting is dictated by someone with authority you don’t have. You were told what to cover, but the prospect is challenging the higher-level strategy you don’t control. My suggestion is to be the humble ambassador of whoever has that authority and facilitate a clear understanding of the prospect’s point of view. “This is a really important question and I’m glad you raised it. I may not have the authority personally to deviate from the plan that’s in place, but what I can do is make sure I understand the challenges as you see them, and your definition of success. Let’s talk about problems and outcomes and I’ll give you the best answer available to me now, including how and when a more complete answer can be made.” Rosa, you want to try to keep them talking about the problems and outcomes, so that you can control the exploration of the actions and solutions to getting there.

#1: Emma K. asked: “How do I say no without making someone mad?

Now we find ourselves coming full circle back to “no.” How do we say it and land well? It’s a matter of empathy. Recognize what they want and how they feel. Recognize their problems and goals. Understanding them isn’t the same as giving in. “I’m hearing you loud and clear that you want heated parking for your surgeons, because right now they’re complaining, and you’re at risk of losing even more of your professional staff to the other clinics. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to lose good talent to the competition. What you want is confidence that you can attract and retain top doctors. That’s why the heated parking is so important to you. We’ve looked at your budget and there’s no way heated underground parking is going to fit that budget, and that’s disappointing. However, we are as committed as you are to the goal of attracting and retaining top-notch talent, so let’s take a look at three great ideas that can accomplish that goal within your budget.”

Be sure to check out our previous post answering 10 questions about general business presenting, and check out our preview to our 2016 film release: Winning Presentations.

And please, share your thoughts below about these questions and answers, and any questions you have about presenting!

Leave a Comment


+1 612.384.0763


New Release! Our new book Winning AEC Interviews is now available!

%d bloggers like this: