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Talk is Cheap, Lack of Questioning is Terribly Expensive

Customers find answers very quickly when sales people have lots of piercing questions. Their answers are more important than your answers. Customers will sometimes shoot the messenger because they want questions, and we are too busy giving them unsolicited answers and solutions.

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but in sales without it, it will kill opportunities and cut sales careers short. One must actively demonstrate and cultivate curiosity and have an inquiring mind to genuinely engage customers. This is best accomplished thru a thought- provoking, inquiry strategy.

Sales people need to make the shift from mindless selling to mindful questioning. Selling is a journey, not a destination. The journey in sales is questioning. The destination (solution) is far less important. When you do well in the former, you will get good results in the latter.

Customers are always in a state of constant flex; shifting priorities, revisiting old initiatives, revising new goals. Your job is to constantly monitor where you fit in their pecking order. Because most sales people are question impaired, they frequently never find out where they stand and end up flying blindly in the dark.

Customers will rarely make known to sales people that what they want most and will value most is, more questions and less information. They know a sales call laden with questions will generally give them a more objective view of their needs and problems. It also does not hurt that questioning gives them a greater sense of being in control, assuming they trust your intentions. Good questioning is the equivalent of a demilitarized zone, a non-selling zone. Your approach is neutral and non-aggressive.

Smart questioning is a process of natural selection and deselection. Most sales people use questions as a process of unnatural selection. They try to force square pegs into round holes with their leading questions. Question-centric sales people on the other hand are the voice of independent inquiry and reason. They know two heads are better than one, so they fully engage customers to find their own answers. This is what freedom of expression means to them during a sales call.

One of the most deafening roars you can hear in a sales call is the sound of silence produced by a self-serving sales person not asking impartial questions. The typical cowboy sales person has a carpe diem mentality and has no need for questions that could potentially slow down their race to the finish line.

Question phobic sales people are not aware that the most exciting part of a sales call is the stuff you learn, not the stuff you know. What is even more exciting is the stuff you do not know you do not know. This is where sales people are able to practice their trade at the highest level.

Traditional sales people are not willing to pay the price and pony up on the front-end and ask tough questions to avoid on the back-end even tougher conclusions. They are not willing to think long term. Their short term strategy just causes a lot of strain, frustrations and headaches on the back-end. They engage in all kinds of avoidance activity to side step confronting reality and the truth.

Qualifying and disqualifying questions can be as simple as pattern recognition and using strong filters. Do the answers to your questions fit the typical patterns of your customer base? Is your customer sharing sensitive information? Are they emotionally engaged? Are they reciprocating their time? Sales people need to be their own ways and means committee. They need to exercise strict oversight with their questioning strategy. Using checks and balances they can better assess which customers to focus their time and effort on and which to deprioritize.

Good questions help reduce gullibility on the sales person's part and being hypnotized by false hope. To do this you need to ask questions simply, spontaneously, unpredictably and without any sense of personal gain. Opportunistic questions face strong scrutiny from customers and are usually resisted and deflected.

When you are information-centered you can sell fast and furiously to get the greatest bang for your buck. That is why it is so popular. When you are question-centered you need to woo and romance your customers slowly, diplomatically, impassively and methodically, because you are relying on them to carry the bulk of the burden of persuading themselves of their justification for change. You can do this by sending out questions with parachutes that allow customers an easy landing if they choose to give the sales person answers that will essentially end the sales engagement.

In my training sessions I see so many examples of questions being used by sales people after the fact. They realize that critical information is missing, their deal is in jeopardy, and they go back to their customer to ask the tough questions. Unfortunately, their efforts are too little and too late. The customer has moved on in some cases because you did not do your due diligence, or perhaps they thought you just did not "get them."

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