Strive to be Better at Questioning than Answering
So often questions by your customers are not request for information, but rather they are really veiled expressions of problems. Listen carefully and do not jump the gun by quickly answering to make your sales point. "Silence, one of the most underrated skills in selling. When your customer has finished responding to your question – said all they want to say, ask all they need to ask – you say, uh-huh! And then go silent. Wait them out. Nine out of ten times they will feel compelled to add something. And, invariably, it is a real golden nugget," says Chris Brown.
Questions that address the obvious are the most underutilized questions, and ironically the ones that will typically get sales people the greatest bang for their buck. Before you can find out who can buy, you need to find out who cannot buy. You know you are asking the right questions when your alter ego says, you cannot ask that question, they might get upset. Do not constantly ask questions that are bound to get you just easy, lazy answers.
The tougher the question, the more crucial it is for you to ask it in the right way. Make sure you capture the right words, the right language, and the right tonalty to make it comfortable for your customer to share the truth with you.
Be inquisitive without being the inquisitor. Ask questions that activate your customer's ego and emotionally engages them. Ask hard questions in an easy way. And remember, so often we think we have got all the right answers, but we have not even bothered to ask the right questions. One without the other tends to make your intentions suspect.
Do not be hesitant to professionally challenge and provoke your customer to stretch, think out-of-the-box and look at their business with a fresh approach. You need to ask questions that get insider information that will hopefully put you on the inside track. When customers are not forthcoming to share information with you, they either do not trust you, or they do not see value in it. Either case, you are on a steep trajectory downward and going nowhere quickly.
Professional sales people know that what is not being said, what the customer ignores or denies, what is not being acted on or volunteered, is often more telling than what is being vocalized. Your goal is to find out what is not being said and understand why the customer is not saying it. Do not be afraid to ask polarizing questions in this type of situation. Polarizing questions push the envelope and either attract or repel. No worries! If you are not attracting, you should not be investing further or moving forward. These questions I also like to refer as "reality check questions" that keep things real and highly focused to keep you on track.
Too often sales people when asking questions put all their emphasis on needs based questions. Needs based selling is frequently rendered irrelevant because customers so often are not in a position to change. So questions on needs are irrelevant until you first establish if the conditions are right for change. Also, needs based questioning does not work well because customers rarely buy what they need. To confuse matters even more, they frequently do not even know what they need. However, customers do tend to buy what they want... if you allow them to. Selling customers what they want requires a lot of deep probing and questioning beyond surface level questions about what they need. More often than not, it is about what they are trying to avoid and minimize.
Needs based questions tend to focus on "what" questions, which represent a very small piece of the equation. Instead, spend more time on asking "why" questions. "Why" questions tend to focus on getting to the real motivation of why people change and take action.
Strive to be better at questioning than at answering. Most traditional sales people strive to do the inverse. Customers learn so much more valuable information from your questions than from your answers. As long as you know that what is important is what you do not know, as opposed to what you do know, questioning will come much easier. And the more professionally disassociated you are from the outcome of the sale, the more piercing, real, impactful and authentic your questions will be.