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Use Questions to be a Devil's Advocate and a Customer Advocate

The moment of discovery is the discovery of the right questions, not getting the right answers. If you want to be a master of asking questions, be a professional "unknowner." Take little for granted, take little at face value, do not assume, and there will be plenty to discover.

When you ask questions without conditions, without concern for what the answers will be, you support the freedom and independence of your customer to choose their own way, even if it does not support your cause. You entrust and empower them to make the best choice for themselves based on their own criteria. It is very liberating to sell this way. No fuss, no muss, no pressure! However, it is so hard for the truly uninitiated. Asking questions just does not seem like selling. That is its greatest strength and biggest obstacle.

Customers have a natural tendency and an unconscious desire to please sales people by supplying answers they believe they want to hear. Questions therefore need to be positioned to get to the truth of the matter.

As Jack Billings said, "As scarce as the truth is the supply has always been in excess of the demand." Be uncompromising in finding the truth. Understand customers have divided loyalties and conflicting interests, surrounded by a lot of corporate variables.

You need to not only be an advocate for your customer, but also you need sometimes to be a devil's advocate. Ask questions that both you and your customer are afraid to face up to. That is what a trusted sounding board would do. The reality is sales is a game where usually 70% of alleged interest is really no interest. Understanding the yes to no ratios is key to success, keeping your sanity and managing your expectations.

If sales people are going to ask questions, they tend to gravitate heavily towards fact-finding. Fact-finding is a great skill, but falls tremendously short when all that is gathered is just facts. Fact-finding without finding the emotions behind the facts is a flawed questioning strategy. Remember, customers buy intuitively and justify their decisions rationally. You find the emotion when you probe deeply with four to five follow-up questions to understand causes, consequences, costs and actionability.

Selling in its most efficient form is finding customers who are "sellable." The shortest distance to a sale in many cases is the searching out of everything that will possibly interfere with the sale, rather than pursuing blindly what will lead to the sale.

"The secret to selling is to be in front of a qualified prospective customer when he is ready to buy, not when you need to make a sale," says Bill Brooks. And you can best accomplish that goal through stringent qualifying. You know you are moving in the right direction when you get as much of a charge from disqualifying an opportunity that would have been eventually a huge drain of resources and time, as you do when you qualify an opportunity that hits the bull's-eye.

For your customer, often all the answers they are looking for are to be found and prompted in your questions. The best questions answer themselves and self-reveal to your customer without your intervention. When you do not take anything for granted, you are left with the strongest sales tool of all, positioning your sales points in the form of questions that prompt the maximum amount of emotionally charged engagement with your customer.

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