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Topics Covered: <a href='/resources/search/?query=Sales personnel'>Sales personnel</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Tips and techniques'>Tips and techniques</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Listening'>Listening</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Questioning'>Questioning</a>
Sales Strategy
Feb 15, 2010 | Colleen Francis lock

In sales, there's a fine line between simply being inquisitive, and conducting an interrogation. The consequences of stepping over this line could cost you the sale, lose you business or - worse yet - lose you a loyal customer for life.

Remember: as salespeople, we're looking for information we can use to help our clients - not a confession. So why do so many sales professionals treat their prospects like criminal suspects, rather than valuable business partners?

The key to staying on the right side of this line lies in the questions you ask, and especially how you ask them. The following 5 tips will help you make sure you're perceived as being helpfully inquisitive rather than an uncompromising interrogator, and help you improve your delivery when it comes to asking those all-important sales questions:

1. Pause and listen.
Let's be honest - do you really listen to what your customers have to say, or are you just catching your breath between questions? If that sounds a little too familiar, try counting silently to three (at a regular speaking pace!) every time your prospect finishes talking. This will give them enough time to gather their thoughts and continue what they were saying if they haven't finished, while also not being a long enough pause to seem awkward if they are done talking, and are simply waiting for your response.

2. Support what they tell you only when you mean it.
Before you ask your next question, make sure to thank your prospect for the information they already provided in response to your previous one. It's not always easy for a prospect to open up, especially in the early stages of your relationship. If they have been generous with their information, thank them for being open. If they ask a great question, thank them for it. But while this approach can yield great results, don't ever fake a compliment or expression of gratitude. If you don't truly believe what you are telling and thanking your prospects for, then believe me - you won't be fooling anyone but yourself.

3. Take notes and ask for clarification.
To make sure you remember the details as well as the substance of what a customer is telling you, take notes, and ask for clarification any time they say something you don't fully understand. Remember, in sales, your best friends are "why," "how" and "what." Use them often to get additional information from your customers - and then don't forget to document their answers!

4. Echo and paraphrase.
They say that you never really understand something until you have to teach it to someone else. To be certain you really understand what a customer is telling you, repeat it back to them, using your own words and interpretation. Then end with a question, to gain their confirmation that your understanding is correct.

5. Watch your tone!
I never cease to be amazed at how many professional salespeople ask questions of even their biggest clients or most promising prospects in a tone that sounds aggressive, accusatory or downright belligerent. If you've ever gotten the sense that you're coming on a little too strong, practice asking a colleague questions to determine whether you sound inquisitive or interrogational. If this isn't an option, take your manager with you on a call, and ask them for their constructive, honest feedback. 93 per cent of the way prospects react to your questions will be based not on what you ask, but on the way you ask them. Finding out how you really sound could make the difference between being an average performer, and skyrocketing to the top of your profession.

Experts agree that the most successful sales people listen 70% of the time, and talk only 30%. With the tips in this and our previous two articles in this series (The Fine Line Between Being Honest, And Being Brutal and Don't Get Angry - Get Results), you now have the tools to get the information you need from your prospects, create an open dialogue - and start building long-term profitable relationships with your customers.

About the Author:

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently

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