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 aware how they ask good questions is as important as the questions themselves.
Selling Is Not An Inquisition
Remember you are not there to interrogate the prospect. The goal is to develop a mutually beneficial long-term relationship. How you ask good questions determines the quality of the answer. When you act like the “bad cop” interrogating a suspect you may get the information you seek. But you are not likely to get an order or a long-term relationship.
Softening Statements Lead To Hard Answers
So what are “softening statements”? Great salespeople know to move the sales process along, they need to ask questions which buyers may be reluctant to answer. “Softening statements” gently set up the question.
Mr. Buyer, At some point in the conversation we are going to have to talk about money. When we get to that point will you be comfortable sharing your budget with me?
I know it may be difficult to predict the future; but what are the long-term effects of having this problem?
Thank you for telling me you have chosen to place the order with my competitor. I know you are making the decision in the best interest of your company. Would you please explain why my offer didn’t measure up?
Great salespeople are aware of the situation in which they are asking questions. And they use softening statements to put the prospect at ease.
Ask Good Questions Then Listen
The one thing that really sets me off when listening to an interviewer, is when they try to influence the answer. I know you have heard them. They ask the question then keep on talking about the subject or give a series of answers they would expect. Great salespeople know to ask good open-ended questions then shut up. Then they listen to how the prospect answers the question. Next they ask more questions to clarify the answer and to keep the prospect talking. The goal is to learn from the prospect. Not to show them how smart you are.
Practice Makes You Professional
Toastmasters is a speaking club where members refine their skills. One of the focusses is to not use filler words and utterances. For each presentation at Toastmasters there is a person designated as the “ah” counter. They monitor speakers for filler words and utterances. The most common filler word today is “like.” You can also slip into the habit of “umming” and “ahing” your way through a conversation while you think of the right word or thought. Great salespeople practice the good questions they plan to ask. They rehearse sales calls to insure they are perceived as professional.
Active Voice Keeps The Conversation Positive
Active voice, when the subject comes before the verb in a sentence, is a strong way to make a point. Which of the pairs do you think is better?
Our customers reduced accidents by 15% using our services.
Or: It was found using our services accidents were reduced by 15%.
Sales increased by 20% after training our sales force.
Or: It is proven by training our sales force sales were increased by 20%.
When did you recognize inventory inconsistencies?
Or: Are you recognizing inventory inconsistencies?
How much do inventory errors cost you?
Or: Is there a cost associated with inventory errors?
Great salespeople know that active voice encourages the prospect to take action.
Modulating The Voice Is How You Ask Good Questions
Great salespeople change the rhythm and inflection of their voice to match the mood of the conversation. Changing the pace and volume to evoke empathy and excitement influences how sales conversations move along. Paying attention to the conversational style of the prospect and mimicking it helps build relationships and credibility.
The Cultural Influences
Different cultures have different communication styles. In general the northeast US conversations are brusque and forthright. While in the south, folks are more laid back. My experience is when a genteel southerner says: “Sweetie, that was a great presentation. I can see lots of potential in your proposal. I’ll need to take some time and think about it.” That’s the equivalent of a northerner saying: “Thanks for the great presentation but it doesn’t meet our needs. We are not going to buy it.” Great salespeople are aware of the cultural differences and adjust their communication style to fit.
What You Can Do Right Now About How To Ask Good Questions
- Practice asking good questions in a cooperative style.
- Cultivate the use of active voice in your communication with prospects.
- Once you ask the question, don’t keep on talking; let the prospect answer in their own way.
- Realize we are not all alike. Tailor your style to fit the conversation.