Tim Huffaker 2017

Effective questioning is one of the most powerful tools a salesperson can use to close more sales. 

Most salespeople are excellent at talking about the features and benefits of their products and services, but far fewer salespeople are effective in asking the questions that lead to increased sales.  In each phase of the sales process, questions are essential for success.  

In the first phase, prospecting, questions are necessary to know if the prospect has any current or future need for your products.  The use of a provocative question can be very effective in creating enough interest in the mind of the prospect to want to learn more about your product or service.  Selling is all about relationships.  Professional salespeople spend time asking questions about the prospect in order to build the trust necessary for the prospect to buy from them.  

In the next phase of the sales process, the assessing phase, the initial questions should be focused on the prospects job, responsibilities, company, products, etc.  At this point in the sales process the attention needs to be focused on the prospect.  I call these questions “seed questions”.  Each question encourages the prospect to reveal more information about themself.  The answer to each question can be used as the seed for asking additional questions.  Some examples of seed questions are:  how long have you been working for this company?  Exactly what do you do?  What training was necessary to be qualified for this position?  How did you get started in this industry?  What did you do before you started working here?  With each answer additional questions can be asked, building rapport and creating a comfortable environment for the prospect.

Next, you want to ask questions focused specifically on the needs of the prospect.  These are questions that would help you know and feel their pain; questions that would reveal their need for your products.  We call these questions Crystal Ball Questions.  If you could look into a crystal ball you would know everything necessary to make a sale.  Through effective crystal ball questions, you can have the same benefit as looking into a crystal ball.  Most salespeople do not ask enough questions to really understand the prospect’s pain.  They think they know, but in reality, they are simply assuming.  Salespeople who start selling before they have assessed the needs or pain of the prospect lose both credibility and sales.  Let me give you an example:

A few years ago, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor, Dr. Lee.  I wasn’t feeling well and decided to go in for a check-up to see if anything was physically wrong with me.  I arrived at the doctor’s office with time to spare, and waited the typical fifteen to twenty minutes before the doctor was ready to see me.  The nurse had me fill out several forms, took my height and weight and then escorted me into examination room #4 where she told me to strip down to the waist and sit on the exam table, you know, the one with the crinkly paper where your legs dangle like a first grader.  As she left the room, she said Dr. Lee would come in shortly.

After about five minutes there was a sharp knock on the door as Dr. Lee walked in.  His glasses were down over his nose as his attention was focused on my chart attached to his clipboard.  After a few moments of reviewing the chart, he looked up over the top of his glasses and told me he was writing a prescription that he wanted me to take three times a day for the next week and that I should report to the hospital the following Monday at 7:00 am for surgery.  He also instructed me not to eat any solid foods after lunch on Sunday.  “Any questions”, he asked.  Yes, I had a lot of questions.  What is the prescription for, why surgery, what is going on here?  I was thinking to myself, “you haven’t done any assessment.  Take my blood pressure and listen to my heart.  Listen to my lungs.  I can breathe deep, in and out.  Draw some blood and I’ll even pee in a cup!”  Now, is there any difference between my experience with Dr. Lee and salespeople who just assume the prospect needs their products without first assessing their needs through effective questions?

The next phase of the sales process is the presentation phase.  This is where salespeople can really shine by telling the prospect all about their product.  However, most salespeople turn the presentation into a boring monologue, totally leaving the prospect out of the conversation.  A sales presentation should be a dialogue where the prospect is still very much involved.  With each key point, the salesperson should engage the prospect through questions to assess their interest, their need, their thoughts and concerns.  If the prospect is not engaged in the dialogue of the presentation, a sale will rarely take place.  When discussing your products and services, never make a statement that could be formulated into a question, engaging the prospect in the conversation.  When the prospect is engaged in the conversation, a psychological bond forms between the two parties, allowing the prospect to gain the trust and confidence necessary to make a buying decision.

Questions are critical in the completion phase of the sales process.  People do not buy if they have questions or unresolved concerns.  Salespeople must ask those questions that will allow the prospect to comfortably reveal their concerns.  Never assume that if the prospect doesn’t express any concerns, they don’t have any!  Everyone has questions or concerns in their mind.  If you don’t get them to reveal them so they can be resolved, the sale will not take place.  Ask the questions, “so what do you like about the product?  What concerns to do have?  Besides that, what else?”  Having revealed and resolved all of their concerns, you need to ask for the business.  The direct question, “do you want one?” can be effective.  Or the assumptive, “Shall I have it delivered tomorrow?” also works very well.  “Do you want one or two?” can boost your sales.  To be at your very best, questions must be asked in all phases of the sales process.