In Questions We Trust
Inquisitive sales people have an unquenchable childlike sense of wonder. They want to know the story behind the story. Traditional sales people have an unquenchable sense of sharing their own wonder. They are over-identified. They are not willing to let go of control, security and self-interest. They seek to have as much as possible conform to their own sense of reality.
Without well thought out questions, it is very hard to put yourself into your customer's world. You have to be an empathetic and compassionate questioner to fully engage customers. You have to have the capacity to appreciate, stand behind and support your customer's point of reference. You cannot be self-referential.
Classically trained sales people have a sales process that can be summed up nicely with one word...unexamined. There is hardly any attempt to really ask questions of any significance about their customer's unique circumstances. Their questions when raised are very impersonal, because the sales call is personally about them and their product.
Ask questions with a spirit of generosity. In other words, ask questions that most benefit your customers. Ask questions that they are more interested in answering than you are interested in hearing the answers to. Be composed, go slowly and do not come across as if you are preying on your customer's weaknesses.
Your information is a byproduct of your questions. Questions are your stock and trade. Your ability to ask the right questions, at the right time, will determine your success ratios.
Questions give your customers a voice. Their voice is much more important than your voice. Sales people need to realize that they need to know more about their customers, than customers need to know about them. Insider information is what will differentiate you from your competition and that is best accomplished through good thought-provoking questions. As Socrates said, "I know nothing but the certainty of my ignorance." Not a bad starting point for asking questions.
Mainstream sales people have all the right answers, but few have the right questions. It is amazing how sales people can be remarkably lucid, poised, garrulous and articulate in conversation, but are tongue tied when it comes to inquiry? Their independent advice and critical thinking is severely limited by their lack of questioning.
Conventional sales people associate questions with weaknesses and losing momentum, and persuasion with strength and gaining momentum. They believe inquiry is a show of indecisiveness. They prefer to figure it out on their own and draw their own conclusions. Yet, customers want you to personally find the answers through them. That way they can be comfortable and confident you really "get them."
Sales people do not ask questions because; they are more concerned with overcoming objections than they are in understanding them, they are perceived in creating unnecessary exposure and risk, they do not want to be perceived as nosy and they are not personally grounded in reality.
Customers know a lot less than they want you to think they know and often know a lot more. The art of your job is playing your hunches, with the help of good questions about which is which. In sales it helps to be an independent thinker and keen observer of people. Most sale people do not have this natural gift so questions are a great compensation.