Many salespeople, once they are past the first few months in their career, quickly realize that good questioning is a cornerstone of their ongoing success. That is, the more and better questions they can ask, the more likely prospects are to open up and look to you for the right solution. In that way, it’s much easier to sell by listening than it is by speaking.
But there is a lot more to becoming a master questioner – and a RAINMAKER sales superstar – than simply asking question after question. In fact, adding too many generic inquiries, one after another, can leave prospects feeling like you’re simply running through checklists and fishing for information, rather than working with them to solve a problem or improve their lives.
That’s why the best sales pros don’t simply run through the same questions their prospects have heard a hundred times. They look deeper into the issue and ask questions that inspire critical thinking, causing the prospect to reassess his or her situation, or their perception of it.
If you’re thinking this sounds more difficult than simply asking “whether the customer has any current needs,” or “what their biggest current challenge is,” then you’re definitely right. To go deeper, you’re going to have to get a bit creative and find out a little bit more about your prospects before your first call. Our experience in studying top performers shows that they prepare a list of the best and most important questions that have given them traction in the past. They then use those questions as a model that can be amended to fit a selling situation. It doesn’t matter if you have a dozen of them, or hundreds, but each of them should help you uncover new ideas and motivations that pertain to the prospect’s buying decision.
One rule of thumb that we like when trying to find a prospect’s real needs or concerns is to use three “why’s.” Here’s how it works: when a customer answers one of your questions, you immediately follow up with a why, such as “why would tougher delivery schedules be a problem for your department?” That answer, whatever it is, should in turn lead you to another why, and then a third. By the end of that process, you should be close to the real issue – the need behind the need, or the core issue that is in play. More often than not, that is the problem your prospect really wishes someone could help them solve.
Becoming a better questioner, and looking deeper into your prospects’ circumstances, needs and wants, is a great way to improve your consulting and selling skills and stop yourself from making incorrect snap judgments. To really be of service to our customers, we have to understand what’s really going on in their minds and organizations. Recognizing the anatomy of strong sales question can help you do exactly that.