Ever gotten to the end of a sales call and don’t see the next step? Can’t seem to get the information you need to qualify a prospect? When was the last time you lost control of the sales call? Great salespeople know how to ask effective questions and are skilled in active listening. They are skilled at the art of qualifying hard and closing easy.
Asking and Listening Is An Art
All successful selling is asking good, insightful questions and listening to the response. Then asking more questions and more listening. And again asking and listening until the great salesperson has enough information to make a successful presentation. Crafting and asking good questions is art. But understanding the different types of questions is important to the art of asking:
- Open-ended questions
- Closed-ended questions
- Reversing questions
- Clarifying questions
Great salespeople have the skill to use each type of question effectively.
Great salespeople know open-ended questions are the workhorses of active listening. These questions keep the prospect talking and the sales person listening. Open-ended questions typically begin with “what,” “when,” “where,” “how,” “what if” and sometimes “why.” The skillful salesperson crafts open-ended questions to keep the prospect talking on topic:
- What would cause you to change your fire extinguisher service company?
- When you achieve 85% productivity, what would that look like for your division?
- Where is there a problem in your delivery system?
- What if there was a way to reduce inventory costs?
- Why do you think your advertising isn’t effective?
- How would you evaluate a sales trainer for your team?
Great salespeople have lists of open-ended questions to use at each step in the sales process.
These questions usually begin with a verb.
- Have I answered your question?
- Are you interested in a truck or SUV?
- Is this kitchen design acceptable?
Closed-ended questions yield a simple response. They are handy when summarizing conversations and confirming facts. Great salespeople use closed-ended questions sparingly.
So there you are, great salesperson, asking open-ended questions and actively listening. Suddenly the prospect throws a question at you. If it is appropriate to your sales presentation to answer it at this time do so. If not you need to get the prospect talking again. That’s when reversing questions are beneficial. It is the art of answering a question with a question. The simplest reverse is one we do every day:
- You: how are you today, Don?
- Me: Fine, thanks. How are you?
You have probably done that many times. Here are some great salesperson reverses:
- How much does it cost?
- That’s an important question. To tell you the answer I need to ask a few more questions. Would that be OK?
- What can you do about this situation?
- What would make you happy?
- Does your product come with a comprehensive warranty?
- That’s a good question. Why do you ask?
- The last one I bought broke soon after and the manufacturer did not warrantee it.
Great salespeople control the conversation by reversing to stay in the active listening mode.
We use clarifying questions to confirm what we have heard. Great salespeople restate what they heard and then ask for agreement.
- You want to buy a home in this school district, right?
- We will install 4 new tires, OK?
- Your previous sales trainer didn’t produce the desired result. Is that what you meant?
- The last time we met you were concerned about delivery times. Did I remember that right?
Great salespeople stop at appropriate times in the sales process to ask confirming questions.
Great salespeople are not cops looking to coerce a confession from a suspect. They are skilled craftsmen who recognize the communication style of the prospect (See Fundamental Communication Styles) tailoring the questions in a way to make the prospect comfortable with answering. Here are some topics for questions:
- Fill in the blank question: Your favorite vacation spot is _____?
- This vs That Question: Are you flying or driving?
- Question from another prospect: Your boss asked me to check with you on the color of the walls.
- Biggest Problem Question. Relate it to your value proposition. Our software reduces inventory costs. What is most concerning about your inventory system?
- Dreams question. Ask them to show you their hope for the future. Paint me a picture of how it would be when you’re in the new home.
- Ask for help: Help me to understand, how would you handle this?
- Accountability question: What do you want to achieve? What’s your goal?
- Question about a blog post or article you sent as a follow up to a previous meeting. I sent you the article about how your competitor solved the same problem. Do you think this would work for you, too?
Did you notice? Some open-ended questions are just statements asked in a way to evoke an answer.
What You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Active Listening Skill
- Think about the steps in the sales process and write as many open-ended questions as you can to help qualify a prospect
- Keep a log of questions and how they worked
- Practice Reversing questions to keep control
Don Crawford & Lois Carter Crawford