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Sell More by Asking the Right Questions 

By Jack Perry

Knowledge is a special power that gives you leverage in all negotiations. The more you know about your prospects and clients, the better chance you have of providing the specific services and products they desire. The more times you give your prospects and clients exactly what they want, the more likely you are to make them clients for life.

In science fiction movies, aliens are often able to communicate their thoughts telepathically. However, humans are obviously not that advanced and must rely on speech to understand and communicate with one another successfully. Because people can’t read minds, discovering what’s important to another individual without asking questions is impossible.

Why? Because you can’t assume anything. Each person is different with unique goals, values, dreams, and aspirations; the things that are important to you might not be important to anyone else. The only way you can acquire this knowledge of what’s important is to ask questions. Unfortunately, eighty percent of all salespeople do not prepare questions in advance for sales calls. Therefore, the majority of lost sales opportunities happen because of the salesperson’s failure to uncover the prospect’s specific needs.

Questions are the gateway to information. If you harness the power of questions, you can uncover needs, provide solutions, and help your clients. However, to get the best answers, you must ask the best questions. Use the following steps to ask the right questions and understand the needs of your prospects and clients:

Ask Permission: Convey dedication to serving your prospect or client by obtaining permission to ask questions. Simply say, “I’d like to ask you a few questions so I can understand what you want and how I can best serve you. Would that be all right?”  Once they say, “Yes,” remember to take notes – you don’t want to forget any valuable information. This act also assures them that you’re paying attention.

Don’t build a stone wall of resistance with your questions. Practice asking your questions in a friendly, non-accusing way. If you are meeting them in-person, listen with more than just your ears; listen with your eyes. Is their body language telling you that they’re uncomfortable? Are their eyes sending the same message as their words?

Also, let them know you’re listening with your body language. As they speak, nod your head, occasionally say, “Um-hum,” and re-state what they have just said, just to clarify and to indicate you are listening and really understand. This is important in-person, but it is also important over the phone; body language can be conveyed.

There are no Stupid Questions: Knowing and understanding a client or prospect means more than name, address, and phone number. What’s their favorite food? Are they married? Do they have children? Grandchildren? Where did they go on vacation last year? What are their hobbies? Where did they go to school? These questions, although they may sound unnecessary, will help you understand where people come from and how they make their decisions.

In fact, when you speak with a prospect or client, ask everything that comes to mind. Then create a database full of information to help you respond to their needs.

Open-ended and Closed-ended Questions: Choose one of these types of questions, depending on what and how much information you need. An open-ended question is just that. It gives the person a wide range of choices from which to respond. For example, if you have no idea what qualities a prospect/client is looking for in a representative, you ask an open-ended question, such as, “What qualities would your perfect representative possess?”  This gives people leeway to express as many qualities as they’d like.

A closed-ended question allows only a very specific answer. If you don’t have hours to spend, but still want to know what your prospect/client desires in a representative, you ask close-ended questions. For example: Would the representative be honest? Be available seven days a week? Have less than 10 clients he worked with directly?

Clarifying Questions: In his book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen R. Covey wrote, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  In other words, you must learn to understand how other people feel to understand the basis for their statements or questions – not your interpretation, but what they actually say.

Use clarifying questions to gain understanding and keep asking questions until you know exactly what the prospect or client is talking about. For example, “I need your help. Please explain…”

You can also use open-ended clarifying questions to help your prospects and clients find their own answers and solve personal problems. For example, if a prospect or client says, “The product arrived a week later than the salesperson promised. I never bought from that salesperson again.” You can respond, “So, what I hear you saying is that the reason you stopped buying from the salesperson is because he made you a promise and didn’t follow through. Is that correct?” Then you know upholding promises is a top priority or value to this person, and he or she knows you are listening.

Rhetorical Questions: Rhetorical questions are used for effect or to emphasize a point. The person asking a rhetorical question doesn’t expect or need a response; he or she already knows the answer. For example, if a person suffers a deep cut and goes to the doctor, few questions would have to be asked. However, to demonstrate interest and concern for the patient, the doctor might pose questions like, “Want me to fix this up for you?” and, “Would you like pain medication?” Rhetorical questions signify an understanding of the other person’s stance.

Salespeople can also use rhetorical questions to convey understanding and empathy. For example, “If I can get the service at twenty percent off of the original price, would that be alright with you?”  Obviously, the salesperson knows any discount will be appreciated and accepted.

Dialogue Questions: In his book, Sales Questions that Close Sales, Charles D. Brennan, Jr. stated that dialogue questions, a type of open-ended questions, are the best. They require complex thinking by the prospect, involve longer exchanges, and solicit opinions, rather than just a correct answer. Dialogue questions also open avenues for discussion and allow you to gain more information in the process.

For example, “Can you describe your biggest challenge?” or “How do you maintain regular contact with your customers?”  Dialogue questions differentiate you from the competition and increase your credibility.

Asking Questions and Listening: Understanding the delicacies of communicating (asking), gathering (listening), and processing (clarifying) information is the most important aspect of sales success. It takes those three steps to draw you closer to any human being – and to any sale. When you ask a prospect or client a question and really listen to the answer, you speak volumes without uttering a single syllable.

Questions are your highest priority tool in successfully completing a sale. Use questions as your power tool to get prospects and clients to share with you their specific needs. When you understand how questions can work in the sales process and how to ask the right ones, you can unlock the gateway to important information and unlimited success.

Read other articles and learn more about Jack Perry.

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