In Sales the Truth is the First Casualty
Customers are looking for questions not answers. The right answers frequently follow the right questions. Unfortunately, sales people rely on product information to do their bidding instead of questions.
Your mantra is to get a unique view that is different from your competition, and that is best accomplished through the depth and breath of your questions. Most conventional sales people believe they are paid for what they know, when in reality they are paid and rewarded for what they do not know. And what they do not know starts with provocative questions.
Sales people do not get important information because they do not put skin in the game. So customers decide to reciprocate the gesture by only allocating little or no information. Are you willing to question in good faith? If you are not then the good intention of one's questioning strategy will be severely marginalized.
Neutral thought-provoking questions force sales people to draw out the deeper and wider realities of their customer's circumstances. They concurrently minimize their own narrow self-interest. Mainstream sales people have a SOP (standard operating procedure) to ask questions to elicit definitive answers. Customer activists ask questions to stir emotions, to prompt more inquiry and to get customers to think outside the box. The best time to ask tough definitive questions is when you need a cold reality check for your customer who is operating under false hope and grand illusions. The more you ask tough questions that get to the truth, the more value your customer sees in your participation in the sales engagement. That is assuming they trust you and value your insight.
You must be willing to ask questions that get to the ugly truth. Sales people too often operate with a Disney mentality that they only want happy endings. You need to compartmentalize your ambitions to sell and transition to getting to the truth, for better or for worse. Do not shield yourself or your customer from unverifiable flimsy conjecture. Sales people fail to ask the obvious questions because they cannot get away from seeing everything from their own worldview, from their own self-serving, unique point of view. They believe too often that their perspective is representative and logical.
Sales people frame questions too often where the conclusion and the answer is a foregone conclusion. Because their questions are loaded to the hilt and framed to their advantage, they lose credibility and trust with their customers, and they encourage and promote untruthful answers and out right deception.
Good questions have an unforgiving focus on getting to the truth and are framed to be content (product) free, bias free and outcome free. In sales the truth is the first casualty so you need to rise above the fray and be rigorously honest and transparent. Most traditional questions are designed to skirt the truth in lieu of finding it, and to have all parties save face. Traditional sales people place unrealistic faith in what their happy eyes and ears report. Sales people are too often tone-deaf to the truth, not because they cannot hear it, it is because they are not willing to ask the courageous questions that will get an empirical reality check they need and their customers need.
Conventional sales people sacrifice the present for the future by not asking the tough questions now to help them assess for the future if they have a good, realistic opportunity. Mainstream sales people are too future oriented and outcome driven. This precludes them from being present and intently listening for clues to ask razor focused follow-up questions. Good questions do not conform to norms and conventions. They are spontaneous, unpredictable and effortless.
Effective questions start from a tentative hypothetical position, from a state of not knowing. In a sense you are starting from the same tentative position your customer does. So it is realistic and matches the tempo of the start of most sales calls. Your questions should demonstrate humility and fallibility. When you ask questions from an invincible position you use lose your humanistic edge and you will curtail getting to the customer's truth.
Another way to lose your humanistic edge is questioning from a position of unbridled enthusiasm. Conventional sales people work under the premise of full steam ahead and do not look back. That can be disastrous for asking questions to probe for past problems. So redirect your enthusiasm, drive and positive outlook to get to the truth of your customer's problems. This requires sales people to truly express themselves differently in a sales call. Empathy replaces enthusiasm.
Thought provoking questions allow customers to think for themselves. This can be very challenging for self-centered sales people who do not trust their customers to draw their own conclusions. Ask questions that your customers are afraid to ask themselves. Remember, to maintain credibility, trust and respect, ask questions that are contradictory to your mission and natural interests.
No news is good news, is not a sound sales strategy. Hear no evil, see no evil, feel no evil puts sales people into a perpetual state of delusion. This is why asking potentially deal breaking questions that are counter to your sales agenda is considered so risky for classically trained sales people. A major factor in getting customers to open up and answer your questions is their perception of your motive. So you have to earn the right to ask the right questions.
Not that they will publicly admit it, but the vast majority of mainstream sales people have a serious challenge squaring their conscious with certain elements of traditional selling; subtle manipulation, one-sided sales pitches, senseless persistence and false cheer. When one sells predominantly with unbiased questions you will naturally diminish a lot of the unsavory elements of the profession of selling.