Do You Interrogate, In Order To Sell?
Or, do You Ask, In Order To “Serve?”
Do You See Yourself as a Salesperson or a Consultant?
Becoming skilled at knowing what questions to ask, how to ask them, and what to do with the answers, is crucial not only to your sales success but the success of your customers. You must master the art questioning to become a master at listening. What’s your sales conversations mindset?
→ Think about it. What do you do?
→ What questions do you find yourself asking potential customers?
→ Why do you ask those specific questions?
→ Are the answers you receive giving you the result you are looking for?
→ What are you looking for?
→ How receptive are your customers to answering your questions?
→ If you were your customer, how receptive would you be to answering your questions?
→ How many questions do you ask?
→ On a scale of one to ten, “10” being the highest, how thought-provoking are your questions?
→ What do you do with the answers?
→ At what point do you know when to move on?
More importantly, how do your customers feel when you ask them questions? Do they feel they are being maneuvered into a position to be “sold,” or do they feel comfortable and safe within an exploratory conversation that could lead to the answer to a nagging problem?
Scott Edinger, the founder of Edinger Consulting Group, stated in his article, Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions, published in the Harvard Business Review, that, “Most executives recognize a need for their sales team to act as consultants and sell “solutions.” That is exactly what I’m advocating. Stop “selling” and begin “serving.”
More directly, is your focus on your pocketbook? Are you focusing on a sales goal or on trying to learn not just how but if your products and services are a good fit for your customer?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with “selling,” in and of itself. We have to be sold things to satisfy our needs and desires. It’s all about how we are sold that determines the outcome of our sales journey.
Do you know how to establish an environment of open communication at the beginning of the sales conversation? This action is seen as value by the customer and leads to a connection between the customer and the salesperson. This connection leads to trust and to a meaningful sales transaction, which translates into success for the customer and increased sales productivity for the salesperson. Were you trained to know how to do this?
If you’re fortunate to go through a top-notch sales training course, you may find yourself in this comfy-cozy sheltered environment for a few weeks. But, once you get on the street, all heck breaks loose, time goes into warp speed, and you’re lucky if you remember a fragment of what you learned.
You haven’t committed to organic memory, the questions to ask during the sales conversation and the order they should be asked. You haven’t made enough mistakes or committed enough failures to have total confidence in what you’re doing; so, you find yourself at the mercy of your customers, your sales goal requirement, and your boss. If you bothered to set aside a time to roleplay with yourself or a buddy, you could hone your skills. But, who wants to take the time to work on their skill set? God forbid you actually learned your trade. Think again.
If you don’t stay disciplined, practice what you were taught, and learn how to put the customer and their needs first, once you’re out of training you begin to develop bad habits. If you don’t “Ask” the right questions, you won’t “Listen” to anything but gibberish, and you can’t “Learn” how to help your potential customers with your products or services.
When this happens, everything falls apart. You find yourself making a recommendation based on nothing because you didn’t discover the needs and desires of the customer. What’s worse is that the customer knows this too! Because you asked the wrong questions, you couldn’t gather information to help build a case as to why they need your products. So, why in the world would they buy anything from you?
Budgets and fears of losing your job overtake your mindset. The “protect my pocketbook” effect takes over your focus, not the needs of your customers. I know this because I lived it. If you feel the same way, just hang in there with me. I’ll show you how to turn this craziness into sales success. I also highly recommend you read the book, Go-Givers Sell More, by Bob Burg and John David Mann. They have masterfully laid out the Five Laws of Stratospheric Success. One of which is “The Law of Compensation – Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.”
Becoming skilled at knowing what questions to ask, how to ask them, and what to do with the answers, is crucial not only to your sales success but the success of your customers. You must master the art questioning to become a master at listening. When you are listening, you are at ease and open to thoughts of genius that will be of service to your customer. Also, every step that follows is built upon the answers you evoke from your customer.
For the sake of this article, I am going to assume that you possess expert product and service knowledge and you have a clear understanding of your customer Avatar. If you don’t, you will quickly learn that you won’t know what to do with the wisdom that is coming your way in the words to come.
I was once the salesperson I previously wrote about. When I decided to stop long enough to course-correct and follow through and become an expert in my products and services and know who my target customer is, it became clear that I next, needed to learn how to create a positive sales conversation environment so I could successfully connect with my customers.
Let me show you how to become that rare, refreshing salesperson that customers want to buy from; a consultant whose focus in on serving and not an interrogator whose focus in on their pocketbook or wallet.
The following statements are reasons, “Why” you ask questions of your customer.
When You Ask the Right Questions,
You Guide Your Customer to Reveal:
What frame of mind they are in, and whether it’s the right time to have this conversation, or if is best to reschedule for a better time.
Who they are and how best to communicate with them – are they a forward thinker, risk taker, cautious analyzer, or fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants personality?
How they perceive their business and their company mission?
What is important to them.
Whom they serve.
How they serve their customers.
What their standard of customer service is.
What their business does well.
Why a customer would want to do business with them over one of their competitors.
What they think of their business as compared to their competitors.
How they market their business and how well it is working.
Their business needs or areas of needed improvement.
What they would change in their business and why.
How up-to-date they are with industry trends.
What their goals are.
What needs to change in their business so they can make their goals a reality.
How they plan to reach their goals.
How your products and services can or cannot help them.
What information you can share with them that can educate and prove value.
What specific program you can offer that will be of most benefit to them.
Next, is a short list of questions you can choose from to add to your sales conversation that are designed to reveal the customer’s personal perception about their business and how well they feel they serve their customers. The answers will also showcase areas of need and strength. Adjust the questions to fit your industry.
Ask Direct Questions to Reveal…
Perceptions of Their Business and How Well They Serve:
Lead in: “I’ve studied your website and the marketing collateral I could find about your business, but I’d like to hear from you directly.”
1. Who is ABC Company and why does it exist? Or, what was it that compelled you to create this business?
a) How has your company changed over the years?
b) What has caused your company to change?
c) What obstacles has the company gone through to get to where it is now?
d) What obstacles are you facing now?
e) How confident are you that those changes can be successfully made in the future?
2. If you could divide your business into profit centers, what would they be?
a) Which area is more profitable?
c) What are you doing to improve the profitability of the other areas?
d) Is it working?
e) If you could change the direction of your profit centers, how would your business be different?
3. How well do you feel you serve your customers?
a) Explain the customer’s journey when they purchase from you.
b) What areas need improvement?
c) What is holding you back from making this happen?
4. Overall, what does your company do very well?
5. What is the biggest problem you want to solve in your business?
6. What are the areas of needed improvement?
a) What are you doing to improve? Is it working?
b) What is your goal for making this improvement happen?
7. If you could change anything about your business, what would it be and why?
Perceptions of How Their Business Fits In Within the Marketplace:
1. What percentage of the marketplace do you have?
a) Are you pleased with this position?
b) What is holding you back from owning a higher percentage?
c) What are you doing to improve your position?
d) Is it working? Or, why do you think it’s not working?
2. Why would someone want to do business with your over one of your competitors?
3. On a scale of one to ten, “10” being the highest, how would you rank your company against your competition?
4. What are the reasons you lose business to a competitor?
a) What are you doing to stop this from happening?
Marketing and Industry Trend Validations:
1. How happy are you with your website?
a) What would you like to see changed?
2. What percentage of business does your website create for you on a monthly/yearly basis?
a) How do you know?
3. How else do your potential customers find you?
a) Is it working?
4. Where is your competitor’s advertising?
a) What is the reason you are not doing that as well?
5. Where would you like your company to be seen by potential customers?
a) Why are you not there now?
1. Where do you see your business two years from now?
a) Five years from now?
b) How do you plan to get there?
c) If something were to happen that would stop you from attaining your goals, what would that be?
Closing Questions to Check the Connection You Have Made with the Customer:
1. Is there anything else that you want to share with me?
2. I’d like to ask you one last question, as your representative, if I offered a solution through my products and services, what would that solution do for your company?
But wait! There’s more!
Do You Ask Thought-Provoking Questions?
Real Estate (as an example)
To separate you from your competition, think about asking questions that evoke deeper responses. Take Realtors, for example, who are competing for a new client. Every realtor needs to ask, “So, what are you looking for?” and “How many bedrooms?” I’m suggesting you go beyond these surface level questions.
If you sell residential real estate, you sell homes; but, if that’s all you’re selling, then you are missing the mark, working a lot harder than you need to be, and leaving money on the table. The business you are really in is emotion, comfort, style, prestige, design, accessibility, safety, peace of mind, security, and so on. Think on a deeper level. What will separate you from other salespeople is how you make your potential clients feel – the vision you help them create for their new home and the confidence you instill in them for your ability to turn their vision into a reality.
1. “Janet, picture yourself a year from now driving into your neighborhood after picking up the girls from school. What do you feel as you drive past your neighbors’ homes?”
a) “What do you see?”
b) “How big are the lawns?”
2. “How close are you to the girls’ school? A park? A grocery store?”
3. “Now, what does your new home look like from the outside? Describe it.”
4. “When you walk in the front door, what do you feel? Why does it make you feel that way?”
5. “Imagine bringing the groceries into the kitchen and setting them on the counter. Look around and tell me what the kitchen looks like. How does it feel?”
6. “Jay, when you get up in the morning, and you’re headed to the kitchen for coffee, tell me what you feel as you walk through your new home.”
a) “What do you see as you look into the backyard?”
b) “How far is the kitchen from your bedroom?”
c) “Do you walk down a flight of stairs or is this a one-story home?”
Think of questions that evoke emotion. You will demonstrate that you are not simply helping your potential clients find a new house. You will be seen as a caring professional who understands that this is a major decision; you’re taking your time to help them hone in on their unique needs and wants, to create one vision that works for the both of them. They will see you guiding them through the process and helping them find common ground; that way the journey will be easier, and when their dream home presents itself, they will both know it. They will appreciate the depth in which you are making them think about this huge decision. They will have confidence in you, and you will stand out above the other realtors who are surface dwellers.
Regardless of what industry you are in, dig deeper and ask questions that make your potential client think. Get them to open up to you. This is where a connection is made, and this is what will separate you from your competition.
How to Genuinely Listen to What Your Customer is Saying
Step 1 – Commit a set of questions to memory that you can ask in the same order, without fail, every time.
Yes, you can do this, and it works. I’m giving you gold here. Doing this keeps you on track and ensures that you receive the information you need in order to make the best recommendation for the customer. You know your products and services, so focus on questions that give you insight into the customer’s needs and wants.
Make these questions organic. Rehearse them until they become a part of you. That means you can rattle them off like an actor speed-reading their lines. When you know exactly what to ask, you relax, hear and comprehend what the customer is saying. You will also get away from the “order-taker-interrogator” pitfall because you will be conversational, know where you’re going, and you will be able to focus on listening to your customer. Imagine that! Once you have this down, the customer can throw you a curveball, and you’ll still know exactly where you are in the conversation as well as how to get right back on track.
Step 2 – Listen, learn, take notes. This shows that you are listening and that you care.
It also helps you to remember vital information that will be key when you make your recommendations.
Step 3 – Think before opening your mouth.
If you have something to add to the conversation, think about how the customer will accept it. This is not the time for you to one-up the customer. Let the customer have their day. You can still have a conversation by asking the customer to elaborate or share something that would be of direct interest – just make it very brief. Steer away from adding your opinion or providing anything about what your products and services can do. This is not the time for that. Stay as neutral and thoughtful as you possibly can while maintaining the order of your questions. The customer will like you for that because you are giving them the stage.
Before you move onto the next steps of the sales conversation, educating and proving value followed by your recommendation, you have to uncover the customer’s needs and wants. And, it is crucial that you and the customer are in sync to make a recommendation that makes sense.
Knowing what questions to ask during every sales conversation and asking them in the same order, without fail, will keep you organized, on track and seen by the customer as the sales professional you know you want to be.
Once you’ve created your list of questions, you now need to learn when and how to use the answers. That will be the topic of a future article. For now, create your list of questions and make them organic. Watch how your sales conversations improve along with your productivity and notice how much more confident you become.
Remember, only you are what is holding you back from being the success you want to be.