Young business man with adhesive tape. Picture was made in a studioCheryl asked me to come in and talk to one of her client service staff. It seems that David’s productivity had fallen off, and despite her guidance and encouragement there was no improvement. It’s true that times had been difficult in their industry but David’s numbers were significantly worse that his peers. Anyway, Cheryl thought that perhaps a different viewpoint and counselor might make a difference and she wanted to give him every chance to turn it around.

David and I met soon after and our initial conversation went well. David seemed excited to have someone help him improve his selling process. He was so excited in fact that he brought a tape recorder to fully document our conversation. During our review of his sales process I asked him what kind of questions he was using with his customers and prospects. Initially he looked at me blankly, then proceeded to mumble a few basic questions but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Knowing we had found a glaring flaw in his process I pressed him further on the issue of using questions as a key to discovering the needs of the prospect. It turned out that David felt strongly that his greatest responsibility was to tell his customer about his product and allow them to decide what they could use. “How do you know what tell him about if you don’t know his needs first?” I asked. “I tell them about everything we have so they are aware of our full offering!” David replied.

David had fallen into the Telling Trap, one of the most non-productive of all selling snares. Instead of asking well designed questions that would allow him to discover what the client truly needs and values, David had decided to skip this step in the process and just spew out everything he knows. This with hopes that the customer would stop him sometime during his discourse, saying, “That’s it! That’s the thing I’ve wanted my whole life! I don’t care what the cost, I must have it now!” Unfortunately, customers almost never do that. More often they listen quietly, wait for the sales person to finish, thank him or her and assure them that they will thoughtfully consider the product or service. Finally they will escort them to the door and promptly forget the whole interview. Opportunity lost.

So how should a sales professional use questions during an appointment? Here are some suggestions:

Prepare – Before going to the interview take the time to write down questions that will help you to learn more about the client and their needs. Types of questions include:

  • Fact Based – How many? How often? How do you do it now?
  • Diagnosing – What problems exist with the way you are doing it now?
  • Solution Oriented – How would you like to see things handled in the future?

It is important to write these questions out and take them to the interview with you. The prospect will appreciate your level of preparedness and the questions will get used.

Follow the Prospect/Lead the Prospect – As the prospect answers your questions the conversation will go in interesting and important directions. Let it go there, but also be prepared to interject questions that will move it in a way that you need it to go. The point is, be flexible! Don’t force the conversation into your preconceived box and don’t ask your prepared questions if they no longer make sense based on the current direction.

Listen – If the prospect is willing to talk – let them! Nod, take notes and listen closely for opportunities and areas where they are unhappy with the current state of affairs. Avoid interrupting the client because they seem to be moving away from your main purpose, it will appear rude and you won’t learn anything if you are doing the talking.

Using effective questions will help you build a friendly relationship with the prospect while getting you the information needed to present the best solution to them. Remember, selling isn’t telling, selling is asking and listening.

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