sales questions

Wow, if the title of this blog isn’t a $64 million dollar question in and of itself, I don’t what is!

My answer, as you’d probably expect, is: ‘it depends…’.

Let me explain why:

If you research this title on the internet, you will find that a lot of responses that relate to the technicalities of open and closed, direct and indirect, hard and soft questions and so on, as used in a sales context e.g.

What impact is the component shortage having on your business?” – An open question that is more likely lead to a detailed response, as opposed to, “Are you satisfied with the service?”, which is a much more narrow, closed question that is likely to lead to a yes or no answer (or some other limited response).

At The Academy For Sales Excellence, we believe that there is much more to it than that, and that good sales questions are an art as well as a science. Indeed, for sales professionals, the dynamics and influence of what makes a good sales question depends upon several factors:

  • Their level of experience, skills and knowledge.

  • Their level of preparation for the meeting (and hence confidence).

  • What stage they are at in the sales/buying cycle.

  • Their relationship with the customer or prospect at any given moment.

  • Whether he/she has earned the right to ask probing questions, and questions about the business.

  • How the conversation is going – the tone, if you will [see experience, skills and knowledge above].

Key points here are earned the right, and conversation.

Good sales questions depend upon understanding (and showing interest) in the client and their business, which is a process of demonstrating understanding and adding value from a professional salesperson’s perspective. A salesperson should never be in a cycle of question/answer; question/answer; question/answer. This should be left for surveys; though I dread to say that you mind come across an inexperienced salesperson fresh out of sales school that wants to go through the 55 questions that they’ve just learnt! See my blog about active listening: Understanding what your client or prospect really wants by using active listening skills

For an experienced sales professional, good sales questions are an integral part of the ebb and flow of a conversation with the client or prospect. If you talk with one, you will find that some of the questions will have been pre-prepared based upon research prior to the meeting. Some questions (building upon the idea of active listening and developing and testing understanding), will surface based upon what the sales professional is hearing, what they want to investigate further, or where they want to lead the conversation.

As an idea, an approach that can lead to good sales questions is to get the customer or prospect talking about what’s working well… People are much more likely to be open around a topic that is of interest to them. Indeed, such an approach is highly likely to be perceived positively. It will help the customer or prospect to relax, and possibly let on to some of the things that aren’t going so well, as well as those that are.

From the sales professionals’ perspective, a key consideration is what outcome is required from any conversation as their questions will usually be aligned to this. Whether that’s to gain access to the decision makers, to move to a product demonstration, to find out more information from a discovery/needs analysis perspective, for qualification purposes, or even to close the deal…

If we consider What Are Good Sales Questions from a business context, the following are good examples:

Why are you looking to change something? Illicit the business reason for change.
Why would you do it now? A good qualification question, and validation of a sense of urgency.
What happens if you don’t do anything? Identify the cost of doing ‘nothing’ (in monetary, or other terms).
What would be the impact if you do proceed? What would the world look like in 12-months’ time?? Enables you to quantify the value/potential ROI, as well as build the sense of urgency around the benefits to be achieved.
Why would choose a particular partner/company/vendor to do that? Find out their decision-making criteria and what’s important to them (and possibly whom you’re competing against).

It’s worth noting that one shouldn’t limit such inquiring and interesting questions purely to the topic of business. As an example, I have opened the first few seconds of many a meeting (during the rapport building process) with a question based upon observation. One will often see details in the office of a customer or prospect that can be a potential ice breaker: a certificate or award, a picture of themselves or their family, an interesting object on their desk. It doesn’t matter whether the meeting is face to face, or online, such observations and questions are still valid for building rapport.

I mentioned the need for preparation above. A good sales professional will go to a meeting with a point of view and a story to back that up. The point of view could be pre-defined opinion around the customer’s business (that they check and validate their understanding and relevance of by using good questions); and the story is a case study or reference in which their product or service solved the same problem for a similar client, or one of the prospects competitors.

To sum up, at The Academy For Sales Excellence, we teach students that the process of discovery/needs analysis never stops, and good sales questions are fundamental to this. Whatever the stage of the sales/buying cycle there is always more to discover, and for sales professionals, our ability to ask GOOD SALES QUESTIONS is one of our superpowers that will lead to success.

Alan Bell

Alan Bell

Learning and Development Specialist

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