Make no mistake about it questions are the key to good selling. Good questions will get you good information. Good information helps you sell and sell more. But the real question is "what's a good question?
Here are ten great questions that you simply can't live and sell without. By no means are they the only questions you can ask but these will do you well in every selling situation.
1. The Who Question
Never, ever assume that the person you are speaking with is the decision maker i.e., the person that can ultimately say "yes" (and no) to your sale. Your contact might be only one of a number of individuals that can influence the sale. It is important you know the players so that you don't get blind sided and so that you can prepare strategies and tactics to deal with them.
The challenge however is to find out if there are other participants in the decision without putting your contact 'on the spot." If you're too blunt, the prospect might mislead you. Here is a simple, easy to use question that you can't live without. Use it every single time:
"Amanda, apart from yourself, who is involved in this decision?"
Or here's a variation: "Kevin, in purchases like these, there are usually several people involved. Apart from yourself, who else would have a vested interest in the decision?"
2. The When Question
I am amazed at how many reps ignore this powerful and insightful question:
"Kathy, when do you see the final decision being made and delivery taken?"
"Mr. Woods, if this were a go, when do you see it occurring?"
The 'when' questions is important because it helps assess urgency. A decision that will be made within a week has a little more impact than a decision that will be made in three months. Knowing when the sale might conclude helps you set priorities, determines the time and effort you devote and dictates your follow up strategy. All in all, the when question makes you a wiser sales rep.
3. The Scenario Question
Discovering a prospect's needs can be challenging in the early stages of selling. Because prospects don't know you they tend to be much more reserved in the information they provide. Many are not comfortable telling you about their "warts and blemishes" (i.e., their needs, challenges, weaknesses and concerns) until some rapport and comfort has been established.
One of the best ways around this hesitancy is with a scenario question. As the name implies, the scenario questions paints a scenario that addresses a problem or a concern but doesn't put the prospect on the spot. Here are a couple of examples:
"Ms. Bixby, much of our research with our clients shows that cash flow is sometimes an issue particularly with the fluctuating price of oil. Let me ask you, what has been your experience with cash flow over the last year or so?"
"Scott, we are getting more and more feedback from IT Directors and managers from large corporations regarding the misuse licensing agreement. It's creating some concerns about compliance. Let me ask you: what has been your experience with this so far?"
The scenario question is based on the premise that 'misery loves company.' You want the prospect to think "Gee, if others are experiencing the same thing then its okay for me to open up." Master the scenario question and you'll get to needs quicker which reduces the sales cycle which helps you convert more sales in less time.
4. The Net Impact Question
Even if you use a scenario question and the client opens up to you, it doesn't necessarily mean that the prospect's need is strong enough to act upon...at least in the client's mind. One of the best questions you can ask to determine the "depth and breadth" of a need is "net impact" question. Here are two versions:
"So what's the net impact on your firm when cash flow is tight?"
"What's the possible net impact if licensing agreements are abused in your branch offices?"
This "net impact" forces your prospect to think about the rippling effect of a problem. It gets them to do some analysis. In effect, you want them to say "Gee, I never thought of it like that." Suddenly, seemingly minor problems can be more significant.' Or, you'll learn the net impact is absolutely minor. That's good too because it means you should not waste your time here. Move on. Because the question is opened end it gets your client to expand and elaborate. You get information and information is power. You simply can't live without net impact questions.
5. The Explain Question
Do you want a versatile, 'catch all' question that can be used in many different scenarios?
If so, here it is. It is less a question and more of a directive. No matter how you slice it, it gets the client to open up. It enticingly invites your client to speak up, expand, pontificate, ruminate, elaborate and articulate. For instance, suppose the prospect tosses the classic price objection. Say this:
'Eric, could you 'explain' to me what you mean by too high?"
What a great question! You're asking for elaboration. Is the price too high relative to budget? Or relative to a competitive bid? Or is it a smokescreen? Regardless, the client must open up.
Suppose your client says "We're not all that happy with flux modulators."
"Wendi, could you explain to me why you're not happy?"
How easy it that. This is a buying signal. Exploit it. Suppose the prospect say, "Well, I'd have to go to committee with that proposal."
"I understand completely. Joel can explain to me how the committee operates and how they go about evaluating a proposal?"
Suppose you're probing for needs. Here's what you can say,
"Ms. Giuliani, explain to me the challenges you're experiencing in penetrating the Canadian market."
Dare I say you cannot possible sell without this question ready and waiting?
6. The Make Sense Question
You might want to call this a 'trial close.' Keep it handy because you've use it a lot. Use this simple, close ended question during and after pitch your product or after you've tackled an objection. So, for example, suppose you have presented a financial planning strategy regarding mutual funds. Just ask,
"Does that make sense to you so far?"
"Am I making sense to you right now?"
Now, this question does a couple of things. First of all, it tosses the conversation back into your prospect's lap. This creates 'give and take' dialog and forces you to relinquish control of the call. This is s a good thing because it stops you from rambling on.
The second thing is does it helps you guage if the client is on board or not. To make this happen you've got to listen to the words and the tone of your client. If your prospect says, "Ya sure, I guess" but with a vague and uncertain tone, clearly it does not make sense. You need to stop right here and reverse gears by saying, "It sounds like I may have confused things a bit and I sense some hesitancy. Can you explain to me what you're thinking?" (Notice the versatile "explain" question)
On the other hand, if the client gives you a positive and enthusiastic remark, "Ya, it makes total sense" they have, in effect, given you a buying signal which says, "Go on, I like what I hear?"
Don't be afraid to liberally pepper your sales call with "make sense" type of questions. Variation include, "do you follow?" "How does that sound to you?" "Am I on the right track?"
Does that make sense to you?
7. The Removal Question
Here's a question that every rep should keep in their hip pocket and use when dealing with objections and concerns. The Removal Question simply and efficiently 'removes' the issue at hand and asks the client their thoughts based on that scenario. Suppose a prospect says, "It's really great but it's just not in our budget." You reply:
"Fair enough Brandi. Let me ask, if budget was not an issue, would you proceed with the proposal as outlined."
If Brandi says yes, then you can negotiate or come up with terms or arrange financing or do whatever because her objection is not a smokescreen but the real thing. If she says, "Well, ya...but I am also a little concerned about maintenance program" you've discovered that it's not a budgetary issue or that budget is only part of a number of issues.
Suppose the client says, "Well, I have to go to the buying group on this one." You say, "I understand. Steve, suppose there wasn't a buying group, what would be your decision?" By removing the objection you can determine if Steve's on board or not.
Either way, you are well on the way to handling the client's issue.
8. The "Give it a Shot" Question
It's time to close the sale. One of ABSOLUTE THE best questions to close the sale is this:
"So, Angie, would you like to give it a shot?" or
"Why not give it a shot?"
Giving it a shot is a very colloquial phrase and because it seems so 'off the cuff' and casual it seems less like a close to your client. This type of close feels temporary in the client's mind; it feel reversible. There is a sense that the client can back out; an 'escape' clause. So, psychologically, the close doesn't seem to be as big a deal as a more formal close.
It's brilliant and it works!. Give it a shot. You'll like it. (Sorry, couldn't resist)
These are eight of the best selling questions of all time. This is not because I say so but because millions of sales reps have gone before you and tried these. They are classic and they work. You will sell better and sell more when you use them.
Jim Domanski is president of Teleconcepts Consulting and works with companies and individuals who struggle to use the telephone more effectively. Author of four highly regarded books on tele-selling, Jim also writes two e-newsletters for tele-sales reps and tele-sales managers. He has also provided training and consulting to audiences, universities, and clients through the US, Canada and Europe.