It is important to ask questions to gain a thorough understanding of each customer’s situation, including his or her needs, wants, desired results, decision-making processes, potential concerns and roadblocks. Most salespeople understand this – at least at a fundamental level; however, in real life, they often skip through this stage in order to present their product or discuss a solution. It’s only when the customer raises an objection that many business people backtrack and ask questions. Unfortunately, they have the process backward.
Asking powerful questions demonstrates that you are not an average person selling a product, service or solution. These questions also help you determine the best way to present your solution. So what constitutes a powerful question?
First, they are designed to make your customer think.
Many people are hesitant to ask deep, thought-provoking questions because they are afraid their prospect will find them invasive. However, the higher up in an organization you sell, the more important it is to ask these types of questions simply because executives are used to asking – and answering – tough questions. In fact, if you sell to senior-level executives, it is essential to ask high-level questions. Here are a few examples:
- What goals are you striving to achieve this quarter?
- How do those targets compare to last year’s results?
- What, if anything, is preventing you from achieving these goals?
However, DO NOT start your conversation with questions of this sort; you have to earn the right to ask them, especially if you do not have an established relationship. It is much better to begin by demonstrating your expertise, industry knowledge, and understanding of your prospect’s business and/or company. For example:
- We’ve noticed several trends occurring in the industry lately. The two that stand out the most are … How are these affecting you and your business?
- When I was doing some research, I noticed on your Web site that your company is … What progress are you making on that initiative?
These questions are powerful because they show that you have done some preliminary research, and executives appreciate that. In fact, many of them would like their own sales team to take this approach before calling on new prospects. Questions like this also demonstrate that you know what is happening in the promotions business as well as your customer’s industry.
It is critical to note that I am NOT suggesting that you spend 15 minutes lecturing to your prospect trying to show them how smart you are. The goal is to be prepared and to demonstrate this preparation by asking key questions.
Assuming you have captured your prospect’s attention, you can move the sales process forward by asking other powerful questions that focus on an outcome. It is critical to understand that most people, especially business people, do not make buying decisions based on your ability to spew out product specifications and information. Instead, they want to know what result they can expect. This applies to everyone who runs a business. Ultimately, your prospect wants to know how your solution will affect their top line (sales) or bottom line (profits). Will they make more money? Will they gain market share? Will they increase brand recognition? Will they compete more effectively? Will they save money? Improve morale? Increase productivity? Reduce costs in a specific area?
You need to be prepared to ask questions that focus on the future. When I talk to new prospects about sales training, I usually ask about their current conversion ratio, or the percentage of qualified leads generated for which they actually close sales. Then I ask what ratio they would like to reach after the training. Depending on my prospects’ goals and objectives, we may also talk about the size and scope of each sale and what increase they would like to experience. This information then helps me position my solution and the positive financial impact that training will have on their business. Consider these questions:
- What is the ideal outcome you would like to see or experience?
- How does this compare with you current results?
- You mentioned that you want to improve employee morale with this initiative. Can you tell me what that looks like?
- You have stated that increasing market awareness is one of your primary objectives. How will you know that you have succeeded?
Last, other powerful questions will help you determine the priority of this decision to your prospect, how the decision will be made, and what potential roadblocks may prevent moving forward. Here are few examples:
- How does this project rank in priority compared to the others you are working on?
- Walk me through the process you follow when you consider decisions of this nature?
- Who else do you normally consult with on decisions like this?
- What potential roadblocks might prevent you from moving ahead with this?
- What concerns, if any, do you have about moving forward?
These may sound like difficult questions. But I have learned from experience that most people are willing to answer them if you have the courage to ask.
This article was written by Kelley Robertson for Corporate Logo Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Kelley Robertson, author of The Secrets of Power Selling, helps sales professionals pinpoint how to improve their results. He conducts workshops and speaks regularly at sales meetings and conferences. For information on his programs, contact him at 905.633.7750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.