When was the last time you considered whether you are really asking your prospects and customers the right questions during a sales call?
Probably not for a long time, if ever.
Traditional sales training typically deploys a full throttle strategy. Arm yourself in product knowledge like a soldier heading into battle, then launch the heavy artillery of persuasion. Unfortunately, this approach leaves little room for the wisdom of what Daniel Pink discusses in To Sell Is Human.
“Today, in all kinds of markets, buyers have as much, sometimes more, information than sellers. When buyers have lots of information, plenty of choices, and all kinds of ways to talk back, that’s a world of “seller beware.” And selling in a world of “seller beware” is a fundamentally different enterprise.”
Add to that the fact that the words you use count for only 7 percent of how your pitch is received, and it’s time to ditch your talking points and take a page from the playbooks of legendary interviewers.
Asking questions shifts the conversation immediately from being all about you–your company, your solution–and moves it to them. A good interviewer has mastered the skill of asking questions that make subjects comfortable enough to speak the truth about themselves. In sales, this translates to engendering the kind of trust essential to closing deals.
Here are some of their best tips.
Do Your Homework First
Whether you’ve just been handed a list of prospects or you’ve had a long term relationship with a customer, it’s always important to dig into their background and learn something about them before you hit them up to buy. Asking about a tidbit of found information will reinforce your commitment to their business.
Terri Gross of NPR’s long running Fresh Air segment, says that while she’s got help to scour the web for information on her interviewees, she is reading every bit that’s given to her.
“I think that if I don’t have a firsthand knowledge of the material myself that I can’t do it. I have to feel some commitment to the subject matter and to the person, and I have to know as much as I can about it.”
Remember the 5Ws
Any journalist worth their salt understands the importance of asking who, what, where, when, and why of their sources. Questions that start with “how” and “what” have the best chance of leading into a thoughtful response. They’re better words than “should” and even “do you think,” because the latter can limit the answers you’ll get.
Geoffrey James, journalist and author of multiple books on business and sales, suggests using powerful questions such as these:
- What can you tell me about your organization… and yourself?
- What do you like about what you’re currently doing?
- What would you like to be enhanced or improved?
- What can you tell me about your decision-making process?
- How do you handle budget considerations?
Don’t Run Down the Laundry List
While you can keep these basic questions in mind, it’s important to know when it’s time to just go with the flow. Otherwise your prospective customer will feel as though they’re being interrogated, rather than engaged. As Katie Couric advises:
“Nothing is worse for me as a viewer than to watch someone go down a laundry list of questions and not explore something with a little more depth after someone has answered a question. I think you need to use your questions as sort of a template, but you have to be willing to listen and veer off in a totally different direction.”
In Change-Friendly Leadership, management coach Rodger Dean Duncan describes a trick used by PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer to turn an interview into a conversation:
“If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”