Why questioning and listening are the foundations of sales success

One of the traits of an amateur salesperson is a tendency to “sell too soon.” In other words, the amateur picks up on a couple of buying signals and starts selling. By asking more questions and digging even deeper, he or she probably would have found out more information that was critical to those sales.

The job of the professional salesperson is to help customers think clearly. The only way this can happen is by asking insightful, sometimes tough questions to help that potential buyer discover for herself exactly what her need is. The better the flow of questions, the better the information gathered and the better the buyer clearly understands his need. A solid approach to the questioning process includes four areas:

‘As is’ questions

These questions help us determine the buyer’s current situation. They give us a picture of key issues such as product specifications, who the decision-makers are, and where the business is currently at, including any challenges it may face. They can also give us a good idea of how satisfied the buyer is with current suppliers. Questions in this area could include:

  • Can you tell me a little bit about your specifications for this kind of investment?
  • Besides yourself, who is involved in the buying process?
  • How do you typically make a decision in this area?
  • Who are you currently using as a supplier? What do you like about them?
  • Any idea what kind of budget we’re talking about?

‘Should be’ questions

“Should be” questions help us discover the buyer’s vision of his or her operation at maximum performance. These questions focus on how the situation can be different if we can help the buyer solve his or her problems. Questions could include:

  • If it were a perfect world, what would you be doing more of, less of, or differently as it relates to our discussion?
  • Where would you like to be a year from now? Tell me more.
  • What changes would you like to see? What would that allow to happen?
  • What strategic initiatives need to be addressed?
  • Why is that? How do you mean?

If done well (and this could take more than a single sales call), what should be apparent to both the salesperson and the buyer after going through these first two areas is that there is a gap between current and desired reality. Good questioning leads the buyer to see this gap. Remember, the goal is to help customers think clearly.



Barrier questions

Barrier questions identify factors that prevent the buyer from achieving the “should be.” While barriers are not objections, they can lead to objections. For example, a defined budget can lead to price objections. Questions in this area include:

  • What could prevent you from moving forward?
  • Who else must support this plan?
  • Are there any critical timing factors that must be considered?
  • What other factors have we not talked about?

Payout questions

Payout questions are used to clarify how the buyer and/or organization benefits from the solution. Responses to these questions allow us to understand and appeal to the motivational and emotional reasons for buying. Questions include:

  • If this solution would enable you to reach your “should be,” what impact would that have?
  • And why is that important?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • What would the impact be on you personally? Your team?

If done well, this flow not only helps the buyer think clearly, it also enables the salesperson to gather critical information. This information will ultimately form the foundation for the solution.

Final thought: This flow is only as good as the deep listening and attitude of curiosity that must take place as part of the process. Give it a try. It works!

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