How to Uncover Information Your SEO and PPC Prospects Won't Tell You.

Today, Matt Beaulieu, our VP of Business Development, takes us through what "poison questions" are and why you shouldn't ask them. Instead, we will teach you how to formulate "lock-on questions" and how to unlock your sales potential.

Also available on YouTube.

Here is the full transcript.

Hi, my name is Matt and I am Semify's SEO sales tutor. Today, you will learn how to uncover information your SEO and PPC prospects won't or can't tell you.

First, I'm going to walk you through our agenda. I'm going to explain why we made this series. I'm also going to explain what poison questions are and why you shouldn't ask them. We'll run through an exercise we put together for you. We'll then learn how to formulate lock-on questions and show you how to get a copy of this deck and other resources. So, let's get started.

Why We Made This Series

First, let's talk about why we made this series. It's so important for us to share knowledge for the betterment of the entire digital marketing community. We want to help agency owners avoid mistakes in the closing process. I want to help you reach your agency's true potential and to grow together. We have a commitment to help not only our agency partners but the entire digital marketing community.

I can tell you that many agency owners over the years have told me that sales is their strength. However, when I joined sales calls, I witnessed numerous mistakes that cost agency owners tens of thousands of dollars in sales. The result is born out in our internal proposal closed data. Over a 12 year history, the average proposal close rate varies from 6% to 8%.

The goal of this video is to help your agency unlock its true sales potential by teaching you sales techniques that are proven to work. And again, in this video, we're going to explain why most digital marketing agencies struggle to uncover a buyer’s true motivation to make a buying decision and to show you a list of questions that you might be asking that actually poison your sale.

We will show you what kinds of questions not to ask, and introduce you to a new kind of question you can ask instead. It's called an impact question and we will explain how you can reliably form impact questions. We will introduce you to more and more kinds of questions and other techniques and other videos, but we don't want to start packing too many things into one video. And the reason is we want to focus on improving a single skill at a time is this: Research shows that if you try to implement too many tips at once it just doesn't work. I'll explain what I mean.

Let's say you're receiving golf lessons from a golf pro and he tells you to straighten your backswing, change your foot position, swing all the way through the ball, and change your club grip. Improvement is unlikely because you're simply too overloaded with feedback to implement what are otherwise really awesome tips. If you work on them one at a time, you can certainly make improvements. Now, let's say that same coach asked you to work on your backswing only and then told you to take a hundred backswings. Chances are that you're likely to improve your backswing. After that, you can then work on your next problem with your swing.

Now one last thing before we continue. We put this into a deck format so you can use it to train your sales team and at the end of the video we're going to show you how you can grab it. Let's move on to poison questions.

What Are Poison Questions?

You probably have a number of questions you routinely ask prospective digital marketing customers. You may feel good about asking a lot of these questions, as they help you gather information about the buyer. You may feel these questions are moving your sale forward. However, the wrong kind of questions can actually set you back. Below are some questions that we call "poison questions." Please avoid them. So here they are:

  • What do you know about our company?
  • How can we help you?
  • What's your budget?
  • Are you the decision maker?
  • How are we doing?
  • How much are you paying now?

You can see what all these questions have in common and why they're poison questions. Number one, we already mentioned the illusion of moving forward. The real issue is there's no value to the buyer because they're simply not learning anything new; they already know the answers to all these questions. Even worse, they're self-serving. They gather information for us and don't teach them anything. And even worse, prospects feel interrogated. Unlike in a normal police interrogation, these buyers can leave anytime they want, end the interrogation, and they'll do so by saying things like, "I have to run to a meeting," "Why can't you leave me some product literature," "give me some time to digest the information you gave me." Those are the kisses of death to be avoided at all costs.

Now, I'd like you to run through this exercise -- whether you pause the video or do it afterward. Please write down questions you usually ask during a presentation, and then contact a prospective client. Keep track of which questions you ask, track how much time you spend talking versus how much time the prospect talks, and then write up a call report. Which questions did you ask? What percentage of the time were you talking? Did your question serve the client's needs or yours? Did you secure a commitment from the client to take the next steps (which is most important)? And if you get a chance, don't feel shy about asking questions about how that went and getting tips and feedback.

Now, what I'd like you to do is replace your old questions with lock-on questions. We've already mentioned that and they will help improve your meeting.

Here some scenarios we have; you probably face these challenges yourself. Your client meetings start off great and then run out of energy. The buyer wanders all over the map, or clients use words like "strategic," "quality," and "streamline the process" without defining them. What I'd like you to do when that happens is replace many of your seller-centric questions with lock-on questions to turn the whole meeting around.

What Are Lock-On Questions?

Here's a little more information on lock-on questions. Lock-on questions allow you to climb into the buyer's head and clarify their thoughts and feelings. In fact, Dartnell’s research found that 80% of customers don't verbalize their real concerns because it might reveal vulnerability. Lock-on questions serve to extend conversations and build on what buyers tell you, and help you zero in on a particular point of interest.

Now, we'll talk about how to create lock-on questions. This video wouldn't do much good if we didn't spell out, step by step, how to ask impact questions that advance the sale.

The first thing you're going to do is listen intently to the buyer and then create a lock-on question by simply locking on to something important that the client said. Something that will give you and the buyer more insight into their needs. Here's an example: the client says we've been trying to find an SEO provider for months. Now, here's your chance to create a lock-on question. Something like, "I noticed you said the word 'trying.' Can you give me an example of the problems you're experiencing in the selection process?" Trying is the keyword in the buyer's statement. Trying represents feelings of frustration and discouragement at not being able to achieve a goal.

So that was one example, trying. As you can see, we've listed a number of other phrases. Look for these kinds of words and phrases dealing with problems. Stressful, needs, concerns, and so on. Those are the words that you need to really hear when they say them and then ask them more about that problem or stress they're having.

Now, we'll talk about the power of asking for examples. In the beginning, it might be a little bit confusing how to format these questions, so we're going to give you an example here of how to get started. And first, we're going to show you how to ask the question the way a typical salesperson does, and then we're going to show you how that same question is asked as an impact question. We think you'll see the difference.

So the customer says, "We had a bad experience with our last SEO company." In scenario one we're going to ask it as poison questions. "What didn't you like about them?" And the answer would be, "Our old company never brought anything new to the table."

Now, in scenario two, we'll ask this as a lock-on question: "Can you give me an example of the problems you were facing with your old company?" And the answer is, "we were desperate for new digital marketing ideas, but our last company gave us was the same old thing as last year. We would have paid more if they introduced us to something new." As you can see, asking as a lock-on question got you a lot more of what you actually need to close the sale.

Now let's talk about how impact questions encourage change. Buyers tend to deal with their problems rather than just face them head-on. They'll work around them, they'll make it work. However, using impact questions to highlight a customer's problem so they understand the true magnitude of the problem will sometimes spur them to change. And we want to help you use impact questions to solve the big problems, not the small problems. Most salespeople go into solution mode too quickly, and I want to advise you to not jump in too quickly with a solution -- because you'll be solving the small problem. Give the customer time to analyze their problems so they can see how important it is to fix them, and you'll get not only a sale but a larger sale.

So, more impact questions. I want to give you a number of extra examples in case you're not confident enough to form impact questions in the context of digital marketing industry. I've made a handful of questions here to get you started.

  • "How does your lack of search visibility affect sales and profitability?"
  • "How much time do you spend each day trying to manage your PPC and SEO campaigns?"
  • "If you could free up time, what else would you do?"
  • "How many employees help you run your digital marketing campaign? How much time did it take to train them?"
  • "Let's assume you don't fix your digital marketing campaign. How much will that impact your revenue? How is this problem affecting your business in other areas?"

So use those and modify them to help get you started.

Resources to Help

Lastly, I have a couple of resources for you. Number one, the majority of this material was pulled from Questions That Sell by Paul Cherry. I highly advise you to read the book. Also, use this deck to train yourself or your team. If you'd like a copy, you can email me at, and then feel free to email me at that same email address, ask questions, or get feedback. I'm available to help. And lastly, feel free to have me join one of your sales calls.

Thank you so much for listening. We wish you the best. Good luck out there.