Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives sound like one of those things my parents told me to think about before I went to college.  Or, like eating my broccoli.  Yuck.

Don’t dismiss it.  Having a well thought through set of learning objectives as you engage a prospect in a sales (or buying) process, could literally be the single most important thing you prepare.

A skeptic might say if this is so cool why can’t I take my list of 1000 questions I want to ask and just email it over?  One, we all know that won’t work except in the rarest of exceptions, and two, because one of the key reasons I want to ask the questions is not even so much because I want the answers (I do of course) but because it demonstrates credibility and establishes real rapport with my prospect.  It can literally force a strategic vs tactical conversation.  If I know what I’m doing.  Keep in mind this is really most applicable to more expensive, complex sales.

Coming to the table with a good set of learning objectives and asking questions intelligently really gives you the opportunity to demonstrate expertise and build credibility.  It basically gets the person on the other end of the conversation to say, “hmmm.  Whether I buy anything from this person or not, this is probably going to be time well spent.”

I’m a little disappointed it took me this long to bring up value because I’m such a believer in value based selling.  Learning objectives and value based selling go hand in hand.  You may be asking about a challenge with this approach: if I’m asking questions and having a conversation around key learning objectives, I probably don’t have a lot of time to talk about my product or service?  Bingo!  But, that’s bad right?  Nope.  It’s not.  Uncomfortable?  Challenging?  Sure.  But think about it.  If you have chest pains, would you rather first talk about the Dr’s heart cutting techniques and new technologies, or would you rather have a conversation about WHY you may or may not need heart surgery?  Think about the last time you went to the doctor with an issue.  Did his questions demonstrate credibly and expertise?  Did it make you feel better about his abilities when he recommended a prescription AFTER he diagnosed your problem?

Eventually a conversation about features and benefits is absolutely necessary, but that’s step two.  Speaking about those things within an agreed context of solving pain or helping move an objective/initiative forward allows you wrap your story around what matters to the prospect, and eventually $$$.

A ROI is a great tool to guide you through your set of learning objectives.  Not everything you want to learn is necessarily applicable within a ROI, but a lot of it is.

Keep in mind, asking questions like how many employees do you have or what is your revenue is not the way to build credibility and rapport.  Get all the info you can for the simple stuff before you meet with your prospect.  Below is an example of some learning objectives for an enterprise software solution targeting large company SANs (Data Storage Array Networks – think: managing all the stuff EMC sells companies).  Clearly, you can’t go in and just start interrogating someone with 100 questions.  I believe everyone has a different style in attempting to learn key information.  Some of these questions aren’t even intended to ask directly, but you still want to figure out the answer.  Regardless of how you do it, having your own set of learning objectives is instrumental in driving a more effective, value focused, selling process.

BTW If you ever get stuck on what to ask next, my favorite question is probably:
Yep, just that simple question can help you learn a lot.

Example Account Learning Objectives for a SAN Solution:

    1. What led you to take this meeting?
    2. What initiatives or pain points or goals or problems are you most focused on now.  Why?
    3. How are you measuring the impact of those initiatives?
    4. How do you stack up against benchmarks for the KPIs in your department?
    5. How critical to your business is the operation of the SAN?
      1. What is the single most important application whose data resides on the SAN?
      2. Could you lose your job if the SAN went down?
    6. How much change is your SAN going through over time?
    7. What departments are impacted by issues within the SAN?
    8. Are you planning any major migrations, consolidations, or moves to your SAN
    9. What is the likelihood an error with you SAN will impact your business in any given year?
      1. How much would that impact be?
      2. How certain are you of that risk level?
      3. When was your last SAN outage?
    1. Is your SAN running optimally?
      1. How do you know?
      2. What benchmark are you using?
    2. What is your largest concern as it relates to the management of your SAN?
    3. What is your number one objective (MBO)?
    4. Do you think management’s view of the level of risk within your SAN is accurate?
    5. What is the impact of constant growth and change within your SAN?
    6. Who is the single most important vendor to you relative to the operation of your SAN?
    7. Who do you report too?  And what does your management structure look like?
    8. How do you win if you improve the operation and management of the SAN?
    9. Who is your most trusted technical resource?
    10. Do you believe your current management solutions are doing the job you need?
    11. Now that you’ve seen a demo of XXX and said that you’re impressed (interested, excited, etc).  Why?
    12. Let’s say you see enough value in XXX, your people validate it technically, and you answer the questions you need answered to move forward:
      1. Who would have to sign the “final” deal?
      2. What’s the process of spending unbudgeted funds.
      3. Who might come out of the woodwork to “kill” or stop this deal?
      4. What is the typical buying process?
      5. What criteria does management use to rank decisions and make investments?
      6. Who manages contracts?
      7. Who manages legal review?
    1. Technical questions:
      1. How many Ports do you have on your SAN?
      2. How large is your SAN (how many terabytes)?
      3. What Vendors do you use (switches, storage, …)?
      4. Do you use a SRM solution or plan to?
      5. How many folks actively manage your SAN
      6. How much of their time do they spend?
      7. What is your utilization rate?
      8. Are you happy with that?
      9. How do you do capacity management?