Questioning Combats Centuries-Old Selling Problem
By Weldon Long
Since the dawn of mankind we have been buying and selling
“stuff”, and over the centuries a predictable pattern has developed
between buyers and sellers. The buyer-seller dynamic can spell
“commission catastrophe” for the sales professional who lacks the
artful skill of effective questioning.
The Old Way- The Buyer Stalls:
Essentially the old
way involves the purchaser following a reliable pattern when
choosing to come off his or her hard earned cash to buy something
and the unskilled seller who can easily fall victim to this
insidious game. The dynamic begins with buyer gaining as much
information about the product or service from the seller as
possible. This information may include price, warranties, financing
options or delivery options.
Second, the buyer will withhold valuable information from the
seller. For example, if a buyer walks onto a car lot to buy her
dream car, she is unlikely to tell the salesperson that her old car
just blew up and that she has a pocket full of cash she’s just dying
to spend. Instead, even if she loves the sparkling new car on the
showroom floor, she will keep her cards close to her vest. After
all, everyone knows that knowledge is power and none of use want to
give an advantage to the salesperson; thus, we keep our mouths shut.
Next, the buyer relies on the tried and true strategy of
stalling in an effort to put off spending her hard earned money.
It’s not that the buyer won’t spend the money, it’s just that given
the choice, we all prefer to postpone spending it as long as
possible. Stalling also give the buyer the opportunity to revisit
competitive offerings one last time and maybe work the seller over a
bit on price.
Which brings us to the fourth step in this age-old game: The
buyer asks for a cheaper price. This step is as predictable as the
sun rising over the Atlantic. It is going to happen - even if the
buyer likes the product or service and thinks the price is fair.
Remember, this process has been ingrained in us for generations and
no one writes a check without at least a halfhearted attempt at
getting a lower price.
While this series of steps is natural, it can devastate the
income of a seller who is not adept at derailing the process with
effective questions. For example, when the seller begins step-one,
gathering information, an inexperienced seller may begin randomly
spewing information about how wonderful his product or service is
without ever probing for information of his own. When the buyer
begins step- two, withholding information, some sellers may continue
the information spewing routine, further saturating the buyer with
more information. When the buyer stalls in step-three, the seller
panics and begins offering concessions the buyer hasn’t even asked
for, and is then left with no defense when, in step-four, the buyer
asks for the lower price.
Sadly, this process is played out countless times everyday to
the chagrin of sellers who depends on commissions to pay the bills
and business owners who depend on decent margins to keep the doors
The New Way- The Seller Asks Questions:
How can sales professionals avoid this pitfall, improve the probability
of closing the deal while maintaining sustainable margins and
commissions? Excellent question. The solution to this problem is
the solution to almost any sales problem: Ask questions.
The first series of questions should be designed to uncover
the hidden emotions underlying the buyers’ needs and/or wants. This
can easily be accomplished by asking basic questions about the
current problem facing the buyer and then following up with a simple
question or two about how the buyer “feels” about the current
situation or would “feel” about the benefits of the proposed
Once the buyer responds with an emotional term, you will know
you are on the trail of what is really driving the purchasing
decision. That information can skillfully be used to close the deal
without having to resort to dropping the price.
Another useful way to use questioning is by asking “Duh”
questions and then following up by asking, “Why do you say that?”
This simple strategy simply requires giving the buyer the answer
before asking the question, then benefiting from the classic
influence strategy that “public declarations dictate future
A buyer is far more likely to take actions consistent with
their statements. Remember, public declarations dictate future
actions. The seller merely has to hold the buyer accountable to
their own words and, bingo, the sale is made and his wife and kids
have enough money for groceries and mortgage.
Skillfully asking questions change the direction and the
dynamic of a centuries old buying-selling cycle. Our choice as sales
professionals is simple: Learn to use questions or learn to get by
on smaller commissions. We always have a choice, don’t we? What’s it
going to be?
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