For the next several months my blog will focus on the attitudes, behaviors and knowledge that makes a great salesperson. I believe that these are fundamental qualities of a great salesperson. Asking good questions and actively listen to the answers is the key to controlling every sales situation. Great salespeople are very good communicators. They use this skill to connect with prospects and customers, gain their respect and understand opportunities to win business.
Asking Good Questions Is Fundamental
Great salespeople ask good questions throughout the sales process. During the prospecting phase asking good questions eliminates those prospects who are not good candidates. In the rapport phase salespeople ask questions to build a relationship with the buyer. Asking good questions finds out the urgent problems and the implication of those problems. By continuing to ask good questions the salesperson confirms what they have learned during the sales process. Listening to the answers will tell the great salesperson what next question to ask on the way to closing the deal.
Listening Is The Key to Sales Success
I have often heard it said: “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak.” Great salespeople are very good at active listening. They ask open-ended questions designed to keep the prospect talking. These questions keep the prospect talking and the salesperson 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.
Reversing Questions Keep Control Of The Conversation
Crafty buyers will often respond by asking questions themselves. What’s a salesperson to do? If it is appropriate to answer the question at this time do it. But if you are still digging for more information you need to get control of the conversation again. Great salespeople are skilled at using the “reversing” technique. This is simply answering a question with a question. It is something we do naturally every day. A colleague asks: “How are you today?” You respond: “Fine. How are you?” See how easy this is to get the other person back into the speaking mode. Maybe a buyer asks: “Are you able to deliver on Tuesday?” To reverse a seller might say: “Why is it important to have Tuesday delivery?” Of course having been in active listening mode a great salesperson might be ready to close asking: “If we deliver on Tuesday, would you place the order with me?”
Closed-Ended Questions Offer Clarity
Closed-ended questions (like one immediately above) are a tool great salespeople use to confirm they heard what the prospect said. Suppose you are confirming a meeting. You might ask: “Is Tuesday at 10 am still a good time to meet?” A simple “yes” from the prospect is all you really need. Active listening involves getting answers and giving feedback on what you heard. Great salespeople summarize a conversation then ask closed-ended questions like: “Is that correct?” or “Are we in agreement?” Notice, closed-ended questions typically begin with a verb.
Questions Nurture Customer Relationships
The goal of every sales pursuit is to develop a mutually beneficial long-term relationship between you and the buyer. Asking good questions nurtures the relationship. My mentor Jim Wilson puts it this way:
“Don’t be afraid to ask your customers how you are doing. You may find out some very valuable information—like why they keep using your services or products, or that they are unhappy with something that you need to fix ASAP. Here are a few questions to ask good customers:
- How did your company originally select us as a supplier? (This reinforces their decision.)
- What do you like best about dealing with us? (What to keep doing.)
- If you could change anything to improve our relationship, what would it be? (Fix the problems immediately!)
- How can our company increase marketshare? (Good customers are eager to help and like to be asked for advice.)
- How does our company stack up against the competition? (You need to know this.)
- What other products or services should we provide? (Create a pre-sold condition.)
- If you were the CEO of our company, how would you go about holding on to good customers like yourself? (They’ll tell you.)”
Great salespeople know open-ended questions are the workhorses of active listening.
Asking Good Questions Keeps The Sales Conversation Moving
Your goal is to get the order. At some point in a presentation you will ask for feedback. When the customer gives a “soft” answer be prepared to ask for an explanation. When you hear non-committal words like, “perhaps”, “sounds good so far”, “we’re leaning toward using you”, etc., it is imperative to ask good follow-up questions. Great salespeople ask the buyer what they mean by the comment. Listen for what is needed to convince them to buy.
What You Can Do Right Now To Be Asking Good Questions
- Commit to listening more that talking
- For each sales conversation prepare a list of open-ended questions
- Practice “Reversing” to keep the buyer talking
- Listen for key words in the buyer’s answers to setup your next question