Questions are the key to all successful sales conversations. It’s very hard to sell to someone who has stopped thinking because you’ve spent ten minutes telling them how great your company is.
In a recent blog, I highlighted the 3 areas on which successful salespeople focus their questions: people; business; and product or service. This month, I want to introduce you to the best three questioning techniques I have heard.
Please remember: questions reveal your client, the person they are, the business they run, the concerns they have. The wider range of questions you have, the better equipped you are to sell well consistently. Here are my favourite three techniques.
Example: On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is not at all important and 10 is very important, how important is it that you invest in this training programme right now?
I almost guarantee that you’re groaning about this question (“I sound like a market researcher!”). When is this one useful? Imagine this: ‘Yes, we are looking at this training programme and we are interested. You know, we’re thinking about it. Speak again soon.’ A comment like that gives you little indication of how serious they are. I find that a scale question at a time like this works a treat, giving more clarity (to you and, often, to the client too).
When selling training, I ask Sales Directors how happy they are with the performance of their sales teams. ‘Oh, you know, they’re doing all right. Can’t complain. Could do better.’ There’s very little I can do with that sort of woolly answer but a mark out of ten gives clarity, focus and, usually, a gap into which I can sell (for the usual number given by Sales Directors, see end).
Example: John, I’d now like to ask you a question that comes in two parts…. What are you hoping to achieve when making this decision and, secondly, why are those things important to you?
One of my favourites, this one. It’s brilliant for making people kick back from their desks, stop reading their emails or checking pointless tweets and really engage in the conversation. ‘Wow, that’s a good question. Let me think….’ is a typical starting point for the answer. When clients are thinking, their brains are working.
You can’t sell to a mind that’s elsewhere (must pick up milk on way home.. that new girl/guy in accounts looks tasty….Mmm, a new governor for Bank of England, says BBC..) but you can sell, engage, excite a brain that’s working, that’s processing ideas and concepts. Make them work when you speak.
Example: Julie, I’d like to take you back 3 years when you last invested in a sales training programme. What did you choose and why did you choose that particular programme?
This one is a little bit of sales magic. (I know, you can’t yet see it but isn’t that the point of magic?). Here’s the secret. Typically in sales, we ask about today – ‘What are you looking to buy at the moment?’ – and tomorrow – ‘Looking ahead 5 years, what will your x look like?’.
Decent questions to find out where someone is now in their plans and where they’d like to be at some finite point in the future. Classic sales questioning as you find the gap between today and tomorrow. Hey presto, there’s a gap, one that your company can fill.
But… often people are immune to this. They know what you’re doing, they limit their answers and you only find out a bit of the truth and you’re left a long way from the full picture. Going back in time changes the dynamic and it’s incredible how much people open up to you. Why?
I think there are two main reasons:
1. The past is a well-packaged, oft-told story and they’re comfortable re-telling it (talking about today is hard as we’re often running around like proverbial flies with brightly-coloured posteriors);
2. They don’t think you can sell to yesterday. They can tell you all about what they did 3 years ago and that’s not going to open up a need into which you can sell. They relax, they’re comfortable, the information pours out often contradicting things they said earlier when their guard was up. You find out so much key information with this one.
There’s my top three. I promise that these questions will help you better understand your client and uncover information that ordinary salespeople will never find.
*Average mark out of ten given by Sales Directors is 7.
© PAUL OWEN 2019