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Shut up and ask Good Questions - Key to a Successful Sale

Blame it on human behaviour or psychology, but there are some universal truths in sales that will never change.

  1. People are more likely to buy when they are talking, than when you’re talking.
  2. People buy things when it’s their idea.
  3. You should never ever begin telling, pitching or providing solutions before the client articulates what they want to gain, achieve or solve.

So how do we get our prospect talking? Simple! Shut up, listen and ask good questions. A good sales person talks no more than 30% of the sales process. And trust me it’s easier to understand this theory than putting it into practice. By nature, we are very solutions generous. We think we know it all and have the right answers. In good spirit, we jump at the chance to butt in and give our fabulous solutions. We have this weird idea that everyone’s values and buying motives are like ours. I mean we’re brilliant, how could anyone not think like us? I’ve had thousands of hours of sales training and lots of sales experience and it took me years not to jump in to give my clients solutions, although I understood the theory pretty well. I arrogantly thought that I knew their problems, needs and values. Then I gave them a features filled pitch and used language that was foreign to them. When I lost the sale I blamed it on the client. “Oh well they were broke!” Once I made the mindful effort to ask meaningful questions, understood how to extract the client’s problems and motives, was I able to close more deals. I once had a customer call up his sister from my office and beg her for 2 grand because he wanted to put a down payment then and there.

How does using questions work? There is something called motivational interviewing in counselling and therapy. Although it’s got to do with psychotherapy, it is based on the belief that you can drive a patient’s behaviour through asking them the right questions. Rather than stating, “Alice you need to stop drinking.” Or, “Alice you really need to go to rehab.” You can ask questions like, “How will not drinking improve your life?” or “What steps do you think you may need to take in order to stop drinking?” Therapists have found that by really listening and asking the right questions, their patients were more likely to change behaviour, especially when they came up with the solution on their own. These patients were intrinsically motivated and more likely to follow through on the insight that they gained by being asked the right questions. The same behavioural principles apply to questioning your clients in sales.

But it’s really important to have a genuine interest in the other person and their problems. In the book 'How to Win Friends and Influence People,' Dale Carnegie empathised on the value of being curious and having a sincere interest in the other person.

Asking effective questions will help you:

  • Elicit the client’s motivation
  • Drive their behaviour
  • Make the solutions their idea
  • Find out what they value most
  • Build rapport and trust
  • Allow them to feel acknowledged and listened to
  • Helps prospect realise challenges or issues they didn’t know existed
  • Shows that you’re there to solve their problems and not another blabbering sales person

There are many types of questions and each serve their purpose. It’s key to have a strategy before going into any sales meeting. Always be prepared and know what you’re going to ask. But before proceeding always ask for permission to ask so you don’t come across as intrusive. “Mr customer, do you mind if I ask you a few questions to get a better understanding of your needs?” Also, make sure that you use reflective listening to echo the prospect’s own words back to them. It’s useful to take notes as once you finish asking your questions you will need to summarise what the prospect shared. This is important so that they feel heard and you get a chance to clarify anything that you may have missed.

Types of Questions and Purpose:

Rapport questions - Rapport questions can be used to build intimacy and trust with your client. Use your judgement to ask the right level of personal questions depending on how well you know them. Also try to find some commonality.

“How was your weekend? Did you get up to anything interesting?”

“You’re from the UK? What do you like most about living in Sydney?”

“Tell me about your business?”

Qualifying Questions - These questions help you clarify intent and also gather facts.

“What is your annual budget?”

“Who is the final decision maker?”

“What are you hoping to achieve from this meeting?”

Needs questions - Good for finding out the issues and needs. People mostly buy when they realise that they have a need.

“What would you like to most change about your present situation.”

“What don’t you like about what you are currently doing.”

 “What’s holding you back from reaching your revenue goals?”

 Implication Questions - usually gets the prospect to reflect on the impact and consequences their problem is having on them, their staff or business.

“How has this problem affected the quality of your work.”

“How will this problem affect you profits for FY17?”

“How is this affecting online customer reviews?”

Solutions questions - Allows the prospect to realise some of the solutions on their own. It’s important that these solutions come from the prospect, as people tend to buy more when it’s their idea.

“In an ideal world, what would you like to see happen?”

“What solutions have you considered?”

“What are some steps you may need to take in order to increase profit?”

Benefits questions - Rather than telling the customer a boring list of benefits of using your product or service which may not mean much to them, ask the right question to draw out what they most value.

“How do you see the benefits of using this product.”

“What is the most important benefit you’re hoping to gain from this service or product?”

“How will using this service or product make an impact on your business?

Objections Questions - Find out any concerns or objections they may have so you can deal with them before taking the wrong direction.

“What are some issues that may be stopping you from doing business with us?”

“Is there anything that I haven’t covered that’s important to you”

“What are some key concerns that you have about our service or product?”

Don’t be afraid to practice your questions on all your clients. You will only get better if you allow yourself to fail a few times. Take the time to reflect and think about what you can do better. It’s all about conscious effort and repetition. Be sure to write up your own questions and contextualise them based on your industry and clients.