Slaughterhouse questions resulted from a visit I made to a slaughterhouse over 25 years ago.
I was a sales newbie: a product manager for a national plant sanitation company. I traveled the country co-selling with local sales teams.
I was somewhere in Oklahoma. The local sales team lined up a visit to, yup you guessed it, a slaughterhouse! Those guys were trying to turn me into a vegetarian!
So there I was, walking along the catwalk. And just where do you think that catwalk was located?
Above the stun line. Below me were steers. Lots and lots of steers. Wow.
Those slaughterhouse questions were “born” in that slaughterhouse that day.
Let’s just say that a slaughterhouse is quite a spectacle. I’m being diplomatic here. I didn’t know where to look first. Up, around, to the right, to the left and, unavoidably, down through the grates of the catwalk into the stun line below.
All of the guys were just looking at me, waiting for me to react.
What do you think I did? Hey, what would you have done?
I started asking questions, and lots of them. Those slaughterhouse questions helped me gain my composure.
Some days, you are just caught off guard. No matter how much pre-work you do about manufacturing environments, there are some plants which – when experienced up close and personal – you just aren’t quite prepared for.
Those slaughterhouse questions were spontaneous, curious and engaging. They saved my butt.
These questions came from somewhere deep in my overwhelmed brain that day, a mix of sales training and the basics of my scientific background, as well.
“How many head of cattle do you process a day?”, “How many folks are involved in moving a single animal through this facility?”, “How long have you worked here?”, “Is this the only position you’ve held?”, “What is that piece of equipment used for?”, “Is this equipment in the right place for you to do your jobs productively?”
You get a sense of the nature and pace of questions.
Let me tell you, once I started asking those slaughterhouse questions, everyone relaxed. They had plenty to tell me.
That day, by starting with some fairly basic, human being-to-human being questions, that local sales team discovered many opportunities they had overlooked in their original sales calls.
Because on that day, over that stun line and as we progressed through the slaughterhouse, we spoke with end users of their products, services and equipment. Prior to my visit, that sales team only focused on sticking close to the buyers and decision makers. Once we got down to the plant floor, the team discovered how, when, why and where their sanitation products and equipment were being used correctly, and incorrectly.
Slaughterhouse questions are my go-to pattern when working with new manufacturing customers. I can’t wait to get a plant tour and discover the customer’s context. How about you?
Slaughterhouse questions, and determining the situational context of how people actually use the stuff you sell, not only set up the first sale to that customer. Your discovery process also identifies how to structure your customer retention strategy, including cross-selling and upselling.
Slaughterhouse questions also are a great way to start working with decision makers who intimidate you. For many of the sales people reading this blog, these decision makers tend to be engineers and technical folks who have their own language and logic process. Like that slaughterhouse, you don’t know where to begin first.
And you have to start someplace.
Slaughterhouse questions help you drill down to the heart of the matter by doing one important thing: making the conversation all about your customers instead of about your product’s features and benefits. The more questions you fire away at customers, the more engaged they become in satisfying your non-scripted, non-slick, completely curious inquiries.
Slaughterhouse questions take you back to: “Gee, how does this work and why did they design it this way?”
There probably are a bunch of potential new business accounts you’ve been avoiding prospecting because the very thought of walking into them intimidates you. Think slaughterhouse questions.
Sure, you will do your prep work (at least I hope you will!). Ultimately, business still is about people engaging other people.
If you find yourself overwhelmed when speaking with a set of decision makers or end users, don’t be afraid to ask some very basic questions. You will be surprised at how disarming these questions can be as they engage customers in talking about what they love to talk about: what they do.
Have you ever been in a situation where you were completely overwhelmed, no matter how much training, role playing and prep work you did prior to the meeting? How did you pull yourself together? Did you think about asking simple, sincere and engaging questions?
Babette Ten Haken writes, speaks and coaches about customer success for customer retention. She traverses the interface between human capital strategy for hiring and developing collaborative technical and non-technical teams. She serves manufacturing, IT and engineering intensive companies. Babette’s playbook of technical / non-technical collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon. Visit the Free Resources section of her website for more tools.