When You are Through Asking Questions You are Through
We are told in life that it is the journey not the destination that is most important and rewarding. To apply this truism to sales we would conclude that it is the questioning, listening and the discovery process that is most rewarding element of the sales engagement for the customer, not the solution, or the resolution of their needs.
Anyone can sell. In many cases it is more important to know where, when, why and who not to sell. Selling is a discovery of someone's ability and motivation to buy, act and change. Your job is not to sell as much as it is to find the truth. You need to transition your sales strategy from selling, convincing, persuading, presenting, to motivating someone to open up and share valuable and sensitive information. That can be best accomplished through provocative questions.
Questions are the answer. However, sales people fall victim to the ostrich syndrome; if you do not ask the question, you cannot get rejected or get bad news. Too many sales people at best go through the motion of asking only one or two superficial questions looking for facts that will confirm there previously formed opinions, or validate their own sales agenda. Fear of failure represents a huge impediment to asking effective questions.
A good line of inquiry does not try to feed the customer, it tries to get the customer to feed themselves. This can be very intimidating to control-centric sales people who like to monopolize the engagement. As soon as you reject outright the concept of traditional selling, you have made the first step to becoming a master questioner. The downside is asking questions can feel like you are not selling, and traditional sales people unfortunately love all the pomp and circumstances and hype of selling.
It is not the selling and telling that underscores your capabilities and your value, it is your questioning. The way to be heard, gain attention, make your case and differentiate yourself from your competition, is to ask unique questions that your customer is interested and motivated in finding the answers to.
Selling is asking instead of telling. Strategic sales people frame most of their selling points in the form of neutral and balanced questions. So your questions are the answer. Frequently, customers are not looking for answers or solutions, rather they are looking for someone to listen to them and understand them. Surprisingly, once they clarify and voice their situation and circumstances, the answers or solutions can often come to them naturally, without pressure, and best case scenario, you are at the right place, at the right time, with the right questions. Your product is not the solution; you are.
A clear sign that a sales call is going well is it brings up more questions than answers. Another sign is it is not obvious to the casual observer who is doing the selling and who is doing the buying. A good sales person initially asks a lot of questions and offers very little advice. Similar to the Socratic method of teaching that advanced teachers use so effectively to influence and motivate. Even if you know 100% of your customer's problems in advance, you need to take the time to honor them by allowing them to give you 100% of their unique take on it.
In the world of sales the easiest way to increase your probability of success is to reduce your risk of failure. Be discerning and discriminating as to with whom you will engage and to with whom you will not engage. You should only be as enthusiastic and committed to persuade and convince as your customer is to share information and meaningfully explore changing. If you are not getting reciprocal effort and information in exchange for your effort and questioning, you are often only whistling Dixie and pissing in the wind.