Selling Is Simply Knowing the Right Questions to Ask

This is Basic Sales 101. If you want to be a successful salesperson, learn to ask the right questions. Most salespeople simply talk too much and never give their prospects a chance to respond. They want to give their pitch and just hope something sticks. That’s no way to sell. Let’s actually take it one step further. NO ONE wants to be sold. It’s not your job to sell anyone as a salesperson. You’re not going to overpower them with your fantastic selling skills. It’s your job to simply provide them with the information necessary for them to sell it to themselves.

Get over the old idea you need to twist people’s arms until they buy. That doesn’t work. And even if it did, it would simply lead you to having unhappy customers. You want people to decide to buy themselves. You also want them to feel they were the ones who decided it all by themselves. A person who comes to a conclusion like this is the one who is a satisfied customer and tells everyone about your product or service. They sold it to themselves! They can sell it to others for you.

Throughout the 80’s and 90’s there was the creation of “consultative” selling. The basis of all these types of programs was using open-ended questions to find the “pain” of the prospects you’re dealing with. The advantage of this method over old methods of selling is you took the approach of a consultant instead of that of a salesperson.

No one really trusts the salesperson. You know they’re out to sell you something and you’ve seen enough dishonest salespeople to believe they may not always tell the truth. By taking the role of a consultant, you ask prospects what they need and want. Once you find their desire, then you can offer them your product/service solution in the most effective way.

I remember back to one of the first books I ever read on selling skills, “Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale.” The book itself contains over 700 questions as it is based on his selling principles and techniques. The whole selling process he uses is based on a series of questions. By the end of that book, I was ready to buy some pots and pans. He kept using examples from his door-to-door selling days, and the questions had you convincing yourself to buy by the end of the book (even though he wasn’t selling that to you).

Question-based selling has been proven to work. Questions are used throughout the entire selling process. In your first meeting (on the phone or in-person), you first need to ask about what the client may need or want. You need to establish what problems he/she is trying to solve. No one buys a product just because they need another widget. They buy because they’re trying to solve their problems in one way or another.

As a businessperson, you’re a professional problem solver. Use questions in the beginning part of any presentation to find out what problems the customer needs solved. These are your qualifying questions. It’s possible you’ll determine quickly that the potential client doesn’t need or want your service. Or you’ll determine they’re simply not qualified to purchase it.

Right after you introduce yourself, you should begin asking questions to find out more about your prospect:

What are they interested in?
Why did they contact you today?
Have they ever been in your store before?
What is their current situation?
Are there any issues holding them back?
Who is the decision maker for their company?
Do they need to talk to anyone else before they make a decision?
Is there anything about their current situation that they don’t like? What kind of problems are they experiencing currently?
What would they like to achieve?
If it solves their problem, what kind of difference would it make?
Do they have a budget set aside to solve this problem?
How much are they willing to invest to solve this problem?
What have they already tried to fix the problem?

Before you try to sell anything to anyone, first find out what they want or need. Then determine if they are able to make the decision themselves and if they can afford the solution. For example, think about how much time and energy a real estate agent would waste if they took potential buyers out to look at homes without finding out their budget.

They may be dealing with buyers who can only afford a $130,000 home, yet they’re showing them $500,000 home. Not only will those prospects never buy that home, they’re going to do them a huge disservice because now they’ll never be happy with any of the homes in their price range. They’re too used to looking at the higher priced ones.

Here are some other potential question idea generators for determining your prospect’s needs and wants:

“Tell me more…”
“How do you feel about that?”
“How does this affect you?”
“What else should I know about…”
“Why is this important right now?”
“Why is that important to you?”
“How will you be using…”
“What else would help me understand…”
“Give me an example of . . . . .”
“Can you be more specific about…”

What is the biggest issue and problem between your future clients and you? In most cases, it’s that they simply don’t trust you. You’re out to sell them something and their experience tells them you’ll do whatever it takes to make the sale. They feel you’ll lie to them. They feel you’re manipulating them. They’ll believe you’ll do whatever it takes to make the sale. So be different. If you want them to trust you, do something radical. Be trustworthy. People don’t trust salespeople because the majority of them simply aren’t trustworthy!

Understand that while you’re asking them questions, your products/services may or may not be right for them. You need to remove your “need” to make a sale from your mindset. Being in business is really all about developing relationships. Some of the people you’ll contact with need and want your services. Others will not. If you want prospects to be open and honest with you, you can’t simply be asking these questions for vital information to use against them later in a manipulative selling presentation.

Try this exercise with a few people. You may simply try it on your spouse or a friend at first. Then test it sometime while dealing with one of your potential customers. This will help you practice your listening and interviewing skills. Your goal is to allow the person you’re speaking with to open up to you about what is really important to them. This exercise will also teach you one of the most useful tools for building trust and rapport with your prospects.

Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to become like a child. Children are endlessly curious, but they’re also totally open (unless they’ve been seriously mistreated). They can beat you down with a barrage of questions such as, “Why? Why? Why? Why?” You can use the same process of asking open, honest questions, although I hope you can be a little more interesting than simply saying, “Why?” Pick the individual you want to establish the greater rapport with (start with your spouse or friend).

You’ll now begin a conversation with them by simply asking questions. If they ask you a question, you can answer it quickly and then ask another question about them. You’re not waiting for your turn to talk. You’re simply asking questions and listening to their answers.

The primary rule in this conversation is that you must let them lead the conversation. You are only allowed to ask questions for more information on something they’ve just told you. You can’t be judgmental and you’re not doing this to add in your 2 cents. They probably look at things in a different way than you do. Listen and learn.

After each answer they give you, ask another question relating simply to what they just said. Listen with the intention of seeing which parts they get most emotional about so you can ask questions in that direction (it is what excites them).

Some possible question starters would be…

“Why did you…”
“When did you…”
“How long have you…”
“How did you feel about that?”
“What do you mean?”

You’ll learn quite a bit about the other person during a conversation like this. And even though you simply ask questions and say very little about yourself, they’ll feel connected to you in a deeper way. I first read about this in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” He called it the easy way to become a good conversationalist. Please note that you really do need to listen intently and be there even if the conversation takes you someplace you don’t find all that interesting. Listen not because of the subject, but simply because you find the person interesting.

To get the conversation started, simply ask something about the other person. To use this technique with your potential clients, you may ask something like, “Why did you decide to sell your home?” Or “Why did you decide to look at a Toyota Tundra?” “Why did you decide to call about business coaching?” Simply take the words, “Why did you decide…” After trying it out and testing it, you’ll likely end up with it as another powerful tool for your selling toolbox.

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