You Cannot Sell Anyone Anything: You can Only get Them to Think
Selling is the law of perception; getting into the mind of the customer, not getting the customer's mind into your product and solution. Questions are your best strategy to achieve this.
"Knowledge itself is power," said Francis Bacon. Yet, most sales people use their knowledge as a hammer looking for a nail. The customer's knowledge is the real power, but only if you can extract it for their benefit.
Solicit for information, instead of sales solicitation. Ask and you shall receive. Just do not be surprised if it shows up in a different answer than you hoped for. Fear drives sales people to not ask the elephant in the room questions.
One needs to transition from seeing sales as the art of influence, to simply the art of communication. In general, customers will understand you and themselves a lot more thru good questioning than thru good traditional selling and influence.
Anything other than a strategy of thought provoking questions promotes passive learning on the part of the customer. When you sell by way of questions you promote active hands-on learning where both parties gain valuable insight. Mainstream sellers do not use active learning questions because it seems too subtle and weak to get their powerful sales points across.
Orthodox sales people are by nature high energy and put all their passion into output of information, instead of input of information. It is a control issue for them. They need to rechannel their enthusiasm and energy into the restrained and subtle art of inquiry. The not so subtle art of information selling can only be effectively pulled off consistently by the elite of the elite of personal charmers; the Reagans, the Trumps, the Clintons of the world who have a natural gift few posses and fewer can replicate. You establish brand and trust equity more thru the quality of your input efforts than thru your output efforts.
Conventional sales people inform customers what their needs and options are, question- based sellers let the customer find their own needs, wants, problems and priorities thru the quality of their inquiry. Instead of making sales points with authority, ask questions so the customer can really become an authority on their challenges, circumstances and goals.
You have to have a sense of wonder and child-curiosity when embarking on the question sales strategy. And as Naomi Colb says, "You have to feel a real pleasure and priviledge to explore another person's world." However, when you are wrapped up in your own world you will not be able to easily tap the well of insatiable curiosity of your own mind.
Do not get caught up asking watered down questions, self-serving questions, or surface questions that bring little value to the customer. Questions that are predominantly about specifications and requirements discredit you as a mercenary, because the value of those questions lie with the sales person. If your questions do not have the potential to deliver you unwanted answers, they are probably weak and ineffective.
Questions should trigger self-reflection for both parties. If they do not, you are at risk in being in a world of hurt, because either your customer does not trust you, or they do not have any pressing threats. Mainstream sales people will usually take a pass at these type of questions because they take everything personally. They believe the sales call is all about them, so they do not have the courage or conviction to ask deal breaking questions.
To be effective at asking self-reflecting questions you need to be able to remove yourself from the equation. As Socrates said; "I can not teach (sell) anybody anything, I can only get them to think.