Good Questions are Outcome Neutral
Your power of persuasion and likability is grossly overrated. Your power to ask thought-provoking questions, give up control and lead customers to their own answers is grossly underrated. An authentic sales person points their customer within where they receive their best guidance. True guidance is rarely found through the sales person's own concepts, advice and selling points. Wise and effective sales people ask a lot of questions, give a lot of context and perspective and give very little advice.
Curiosity is to sales today as persuasiveness, convincing and cajoling was to the past. Natural curiosity, being interested and being inquisitive, is the new power of persuasion for the future. This change has been driven by the information economy which has essentially neutralized and marginalized the traditional value proposition of sales people bringing information to the table.
Once you truly believe that you have nothing all that important to say, you are headed in the right direction in becoming a master questioner by default. Questions will also flow with ease and abundance when you take on a posture that you have nothing to lose by finding the truth. Sales people tend to ask a fraction of provocative questions they could be asking because of fear of rejection, and fear of the unknown. Effective communication is not truly accomplished until all points of view are discussed openly and freely. When you believe you know the truth for yourself and your customer you tend not to ask a lot of the questions that allow your customer the independence to draw their own conclusions.
Customers most strongly identify with ideas and thoughts that they think of themselves. If you want to effectively influence your customer, find ways to validate and reinforce their ideas. Then when you present your sales case laden with their own ideas it will be easier for them to claim them as their own. This can be best accomplished through a good questioning strategy.
The only truth that matters when asking question is the truth from the perspective of your customer. The truth of whether you can really help him is immaterial. The truth of whether you have a superior solution is immaterial. The only truth of consequence that is worth probing and understanding is the customers convictions, opinions, and perceptions about their business, their problems, and their willingness to take action or not.
It does not matter what your customer needs or wants, until you both know why they need it and what is at risk if they do not get it. However, when sales people are in the clutches of their ego and their selling position, it will be very hard to get to the truth of the matter. When asking for the truth with your customers, you need to be at the same time forthcoming in giving the truth. "The right to search for the truth also implies a duty; one must not conceal anything that they have recognized as the truth," said Albert Einstein.
Sales people too often are more interested in the cards they hold than in the cards of their customers. Except in rare cases, your cards are defined by your customer's hand. Your hand is playable or not depending on what's across the table. So use questions as a tool to measure the strength of your position, and the viability of any future investment of your time and resources.
Win at losing. Effective questioning and qualifying lets you win at losing by disqualifying poor prospective customers quickly to allow you to cut your losses. Since roughly 70% of all deals a sales person is working on will go for naught, then it only reasons, that sales people should be spending a far greater time understanding and probing all the real reasons a deal may never materialize. In addition, 65% of all potential deals lose out to the status quo. With this knowledge you should be more concerned with not selling, but first establishing whether realistically a customer is seriously considering changing. Good questions flush out not only the positive, but negative indicators for change.
Asking questions that are contrary to your self-interest is the fastest way to forward your sales agenda and your own self-interest. Sales people who bias their questions with positive spin do not build trust and only are fooling themselves. By asking hopeful questions you are limiting the value, the depth, and the credibility of the responses you will get. Good questions are outcome neutral, because nothing of value can be forced or manipulated. Be careful not to frame questions that restrict the full scope of possible answers; pro and con. Too often sales people frame questions that are designed to elicit answers that box customers in, resulting in half truths and outright deceptions.
Probing question should be deep and far beyond the typical superficial one or two questions. To effectively find out your customer's problems, make sure you frame your questions to reflect the past where all problems originate. Future oriented questions are self-serving because they generally are asked to promote selling, and not understanding.