Sales success usually begins with the ability to ask good and powerful questions and then listen — really listen — to the answers. Some salespeople fail to ask the right questions. Others ask the right questions but don’t listen properly to the answers.
Questions give salespeople control and credibility. They help the prospect uncover or reveal their real objections without any pressure from the salesperson. Questions also shift the focus from the salesperson to the prospect, where it belongs.
One of the objectives of questioning is to get the prospect to do most of the talking and become emotionally involved. Prospects usually find it flattering to give opinions and have someone carefully listen to them.
Creating questions before the call
Here’s a four-step strategy for planning questions in advance of a sales call:
- What’s the status quo? Pinpoint how the buyer is already trying to meet his or her needs without you.
- What are the problems the prospect is most likely facing? Try to put those concerns in the prospect’s language.
- Examine the impact of these issues on the prospect’s bottom-line. How do they affect costs and productivity?
- Draw the connections. Calculate the value prospects will get from your offering versus sticking with the status quo. Use this information to create pertinent questions that tie the prospect’s needs directly to the problems your product or service may solve.
Timing your questions
You can dramatically improve the information flow with prospects by pausing after a question and listening carefully before responding. One of the best compliments you can pay prospects is to show you’re sincerely interested in what they have to say. By asking one question at a time and then keeping quiet as the prospect answers, you’re actively listening.
Try to pinpoint the areas where you are information poor so you can come up with the right questions. Examples of questions you’ll want to ask yourself:
- What are the specific measurable results the prospect may obtain by buying my product or service?
- Do I understand the prospect’s buying procedures?
- What is the urgency of my proposal to the prospect?
- Do I have all the information I need about the competition?
- Does the prospect have the authority to make a buying decision?
- What is the potential for this account?
- What obstacles may stand in the way of my closing this account?
Prospect concern questions
Prospects have things they want to achieve and others they want to avoid. Studies show that the avoidance of pain is a more powerful motivator than the pursuit of gain. Here are some questions you can ask prospects that may help you identify their pains:
- What concerns you most about making this buying decision?
- What is your greatest fear with this purchase?
- What do you want to avoid moving forward?
- What would keep you from moving forward?
- What do you dislike doing that we can do for you?
It’s a good idea to come up with opportunistic questions that may call attention to a weakness in the current supplier. Questions like the following are particularly valuable when it comes to overcoming the “satisfied with my present supplier objection”:
- What is the quality of what you’re using now?
- What do you like or dislike about what you’re currently using?
- Will the product you’re currently using get you where you want to be in the future?
- What kind of feedback do you get on what you’re currently using?
- Are there any problems with delivery with this product?
Questions that pinpoint time issues
The following questions may call attention to long-term issues for your prospect:
- How long do you plan to use this product?
- What are your long-term goals for this project?
- Where would you like to go in the future with this?
- What post-sale, long-term requirements do you have?
- Where do you see your company headed in the future?
Questions that create value-added extras
Here are some questions that may help you add value to the equation:
- How much flexibility do you need from a supplier?
- What can we do to make it easier for you to purchase from us?
- Is it important for you to have your suppliers offer this type of service?
- What quality issues concern you the most?
- What special ordering needs do you have?
- If you could have one extra feature from a supplier, what would it be?
When prospects ask questions
When prospects ask questions, the sales process has reached a crossroads. The way a salesperson responds can move the sale forward or kill it in its tracks. Salespeople have to walk a fine line. If they give a short answer, the prospect can take them right down a dead end: “Okay, that’s all I need to know. Thanks very much.”
But if a response is too long-winded, a prospect may lose patience: “I don’t want the run-around, just give me a straight answer.” How can salespeople offer the right response, the one that moves them closer to the close?
The problem is that closed questions like “How much?” “How often?” or questions that produce a “yes” or “no” don’t reveal much about the customer. And it’s hard for salespeople to think about coming up with the next open-ended probe while at the same time listening intently to what customers are saying.
It’s a good idea to try to stay one step ahead of the prospect. Salespeople can usually do this by asking themselves, “How will the prospect respond to my response?
If they come up blank, the conversation is usually headed for a dead end. Example: “What’s your delivery time?”
Dead-end answer: “Two weeks.”
Better: “Is two weeks quick enough?”
With the second response, the salesperson sets himself/herself up to make another move. If the buyer says “yes,” he/she is ready to close. If the buyer says no, the door is open to find out what he/she still needs.