Customers Learn More About You from Your Questions
Sales person's burden: From the moment you open your mouth, customers are assessing and judging you on your credibility, product and company bias. How you conduct your line of questioning in a natural and unbiased way will determine your credibility. Customers know you are not an uninterested party, someone free of bias.
In the selling profession knowledge is power when it is used as a tool for inquiry. Avoid giving out information. Rather, use your information as a tool to get more information. Avoid telling when you can ask.
"Customers learn more about us and our value from what we ask them, than from what we say," says Jerry Stapleton. This is news for most conventional sales people. Most sales people are too product–centric and company-centric and not customer-centric and problem-centric. "Why do sales people get so little respect? Because memorable sales are the painful ones. They occur when a sales person beats a customer over the head instead of getting inside their head," says Avrum Lank.
The problem with asking questions is it does not seem like selling. However, "Asking questions does not seem like selling to the customer," says Michael Bosworth. No sales person really becomes a fool until they stop asking questions.
The skill set of asking questions and properly disqualifying opportunities will consistently trump the skill set of persuasion and convincing. Unfortunately, too often sales people will not ask questions because they do not have the time and the patience to labor through listening to the answers. They also fear hearing an answer that they do not want to hear. Sales people do not like to ask intelligent questions because they are so intent on demonstrating and outlining the results their offering will deliver. Questions just slow down this objective.
Good questions should not stand on their own merit, rather they should be a lead in to more in-depth questions. They should also be used to trigger emotions, and not to be used just to elicit cold data and information.
Orthodox sales people fall in the trap of asking mostly self-serving questions that are solely situational (who, what, when, where, and how) that so often make customers eventually feel queasy and diminished. These questions are designed solely to benefit the sales person so that they can build a persuasive sales case. Rather, they should ask engaging thought-provoking questions (behavioral based) that tap the feelings and emotions of their customers to avoid or diminish problems.
Questions will make customers uncomfortable and feel intruded upon when sales people are constantly framing their questions to gather information about the present or the future. The questions that customers ironically are most interested to answer are questions about the past. Most customers will not allow you to ask questions about the future (your solution), until you have fulfilled their perception that you understand their past circumstances (problems).
The goal of asking a question is not to impose your beliefs on your customer and to put your gloss and imprint on their ideas. Rather, your job is more to help interpret and anticipate their goals, issues, concerns and competing initiatives, and to bring clarity to the cost of changing. Good questions help customers internalize their feelings and experiences, instead of just externalizing them to you.
One of the hallmarks of sales people who are successful and use questions to build relationships with customers is patience. Traditionally minded sales people lack any long-term view and tend to immediately launch into senseless and meaningless product pitches. They do not know that the act of asking a meaningful question is a key relationship builder. "Most sales people wait for a relationship in order to ask hard questions. Yet, often it is asking the hard questions that creates the relationship. Because they do not ask the tough questions they default to soft anecdotal evidence and weak opinions," says Scott Sage.
Often sales people will not ask tough questions because they believe they have better answers to give than their customers. Sales people should not do for others what they must do for themselves. Even if you know 100% of your customer's story and situation, you need to hear and listen to 100% of their own unique personal version and rendition.
A major element of good questioning skills is the ability to qualify and disqualify bad opportunities. Pulling the plug on bad deals and opportunities will buy you more time sometimes than winning a deal. The ability to disqualify bad opportunities will save you untold time, energy and resources. "Ignorant of which prospects are good, you try to sell everyone. Ignorant of which prospects are bad, you are discouraged from selling anyone," says Gary Gagliardi. Remember, you can only sell your product and service to customers qualified to buy what you sell.
Selling has more to do with picking your battles wisely, and cutting your losses on poor opportunities, than it does with charm and powers of persuasion for most of us. So give your customers the liberty and the authority to choose to do as they see fit. You will find that you will be more comfortable in walking away with your head high from deals that are not mutually beneficial to all parties.
Qualifying and questioning is not an initial activity that is done early on in the sales process, or a one-time event. It happens from day one to the closing of the deal. Always be diligent to use your information for maximum leverage; as a tool for inquiry.