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Questions Go Unasked and Go Unanswered Because of the Joy Kill of the Truth

A defining moment in sales...question or sell. Questions truly do speak louder than words in the digital era. However, questions are an acquired taste for most sales people. Many mainstream sales people are question challenged, it is virgin territory. Their zeal to sell and inform, instead of being informed, dulls and stifles their inquisitiveness.

Selling is not about persuasion, as much as it is about how effectively you are able to negotiate through critical questions and sensitive information, and using that information as your foundation, instead of using your product as your foundation. Question deficit sales people fear that if they ask lots of questions it will suck all the positive energy out of the room that they have worked so diligently to create, and will force their customer to take their eye off the main prize—their solution. Lots of questions in traditional sales calls go unasked and go unanswered because of the joy kill of the truth.

Sales people need to believe that they are in the import business (questions), not the export business (giving out information) in order for them to be committed to a questioning strategy. Questions should magnify your customer not your agenda. Mainstream sales people think they use questions to better understand their customers, yet the questions they ask are too often used to better understand how they can sell their customers without really understanding the customer's unique perspective.

Mainstream sales people will generally shy away from asking deal breaking, tough questions because it could result in a negative self-fulfilling prophecy...tempt fate. This is silly! Give your customers more credit. Avoiding any discussion that will result in undesirable outcomes for sales people will not prevent undesirable outcomes. More importantly, the avoidance of uncomfortable discussions will only prevent trust. Negative news is good news when it is delivered early.

I had a sales person tell me in one of my classes that the toughest part of his job was to get people to be willing to give up and share bad news (reality). Getting customers to agree to buy was relatively easy when they were predisposed. He learned over time to cut his teeth and cut his losses with cutting-edge questions to ferret out lost causes. He was able to get customers to fess up earlier than later, that short of the second coming, nothing was going to change or happen differently.

Mainstream sales people quite often are short on questions because they do not believe it is critical to know what others think, feel, prioritize and what they value. They put stock into personally expressing what they feel, believe and value. Instead of projecting empathy, they communicate apathy. You betray your customer's confidence and trust when you do not ask the right questions for the right reasons. The quest of truth and knowledge should not focus all your attention on spreading it, but eliciting it. This proves your mettle, or the measure of a man (sales person).

High emotion (enthusiasm) and the lack of humility are the twin evil forces and the enemy of thought-provoking questioning. Sales people too often use the blunt instrument of information proliferation, instead of the far more effective subtle tool of influence...questioning. Unbeknownst to sales people, it is easier to communicate a superior knowledge of your customer's problem and your solution by asking questions, than it is to communicate leading with information, proof and declarations. This is the case because the act of asking questions is more believable and trustworthy. Questions are a unique way to convey information, build consensus and promote decision-making without the exacting standard of proof that information sellers must uphold.

Questions are designed to wind up customers and let them go in any direction they seem fit. Traditional sellers will sometimes alienate customers because they believe they can magically define the wishes and goals of their customers without the hard work of discovery and exploration of the nuances of their business. Without insider information, that is directly extracted from customers, sellers are a dime a dozen. What you have to ask is more important and believable than what you have to say.

Information sellers make the mistake of letting their product/service do their bidding. Question-centric sales people use their product primarily as an excuse to engage deeply, and extract important information from their customers. Also character, trust and integrity are far easier to demonstrate in questioning and in listening. That is why questions are so effective.

Questions are your due process that get customers to be reflective, self-questioning and to better understand their motives for changing. However, most sales people do the equivalent of drive-by questioning. They do not have an open and reflective frame of mind that is open to all types of possibilities, all types of answers.

Two integral parts of selling is the content and the process. The content is the "what," and the process is the "how" and the "why." Sales people share their content with vigor, animation and enthusiasm because it best serves their purpose. They are less concerned with the process of "how" and "why" a customer would change because it might elicit the "wrong" answers. It also takes questions to mine those areas and most traditional sales people are concerned their influence and power will depreciate. Strategic sales people use the process to get their customers to give their content out. They know that content is king—the customer's content, not theirs.

Mainstream sales people will stop asking the right questions because they hate getting the wrong answers. Remember, when you are through asking questions you are through. Anyone can talk the talk of questions, but make sure you walk the walk.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com