I wrote recently about the many benefits of asking questions in sales conversations, benefits way beyond just finding out about the client need. In a forthcoming blog, I want to introduce you to my top four questioning techniques, all four introduced to me by one of my favourite sales trainers a few years ago. Today, I’d like to give you a tip about the type of questions you ask.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of sales questions and by that, I mean three areas on which your questions should focus. Unfortunately, many salespeople only spend time on one of them. Let’s do that one first.
Product or service questions
These are questions around the need or desire people have for your product or service. These questions might be ‘What do you like about this service / product?’; ‘What are you looking for in your next purchase?’; ‘What element of our service are you most interested in?’ You need to ask questions like this in sales conversations but all too often they’re the only questions asked. What tends to happen is that the questions are relatively closed, producing short answers, and you quickly run out of questions. Problem? Yes, it is. It means you’ve finished the questioning phase too quickly and you’ll fall into selling pretty early in the conversation. Your limited knowledge of your customer significantly reduces your chances of selling your company’s products and services in a tailored, relevant and compelling fashion. These questions help but they’re not enough on their own.
Obvious I know but these are questions that help you to understand the person or people in front of you in any sales conversation. In B2B conversations, the most obvious example of this question type would be ‘What’s your role at the company?’ – if you had any idea of how often this question is overlooked, you’d be staggered. I often think of ‘People questions’ being the legitimate working version of that common party game of sticking post-it notes on your fellow dinner guests’ forehead and then giving them 20 questions to find out who they are. No post-its and no famous names to uncover but, as a salesperson, you need to find out who this person is and you’re best served by knowing that before you start selling. In a B2C conversation, you might use a question no more complicated than ‘Can you tell me a little bit more about yourselves and your interests in life to better enable me to help you today?’ Anything that gets them talking about themselves, about their lives will help you.
My point is this: never mind the customer need to identify; find out who this person is in front of you.
Most compellingly these should be part of every B2B conversation but also have a part to play in B2C sales. Let’s assume that you’ve asked your people questions first (not a strict rule but I find it works best) and now, before getting into the product, you want to find out about their business. ‘Why was your company set up?’; ‘What makes your company different from the rest?’; ‘Tell me, please, where you want your company to be in 5 years’ time’. You can’t strike up a productive B2B conversation without understanding the fundamentals of the other person’s business. So, ask them! Additionally, though consumers are talking to you as private individuals, their business, their jobs are a part of who they are as people. Understanding what they do, why they’re successful at it (or if they’re not, why not!) gives you a better picture of them, a fuller picture of them. All this information gives you clues as to which of your products and services they might like, and why.
If you were to sell to your best friends, you’d probably do it well. You understand them as people, you know their working world and you know what products and services they like along with the value they attach to certain elements (are they looking for ‘cheap and functional’ or do they want the ‘best on the block’?)
If you don’t’ ask both ‘People’ and ‘Business’ questions as well as ‘Product / Service’ questions, you are massively reducing your ability to understand this person, to read this person and that gives your sales pitch much less chance of success. Even more importantly, you might well sell your client or your new business partner the wrong product at the wrong price at the wrong time. And, as you know, that’s no way to do business.
©Paul Owen 2019