Educating is Closing...Relationships are Revenue!

8 Sales Questions You Can't Live (and Sell) Without!

Questions help you uncover what you need to know to sell. Without good ones, you're just stumbling in the dark.

Make no mistake about it; questions are the key to good selling. Good questions will get you good information. Good information helps you sell and sell more. Here are eight great questions that you simply can't sell without. These are not the only questions you could ask, but they'll serve you well in every selling situation.

1. The Who Question
Never, ever assume that the person you are speaking with is the decision-maker. Your contact may be only one of a number of individuals who could influence the sale. Know the players so you can prepare strategies and tactics to deal with them. Your challenge is to find out if there are other participants in the decision without putting your contact on the spot. If you're too blunt, the prospect might mislead you. Here is a simple question that you can't live without. Use it every time:

"Amanda, apart from yourself, who is involved in this decision?"

Here's a variation: "Kevin, in purchases like these, there are usually several people involved. Apart from yourself, who else would have a vested interest in the decision?"

2. The When Question
I am amazed at how many reps ignore this powerful and insightful question:

"Kathy, when do you see the final decision being made and delivery taken?" Or, "Mr. Woods, if this were a go, when do you see it occurring?"

The when question helps you to assess urgency. A decision that will be made within a week has more urgency than a decision that will be made in three months. Knowing when the sale might conclude helps you set priorities, determines the time and effort you devote and dictates your follow up strategy.

3. The Scenario Question
Discovering a prospect's needs can be challenging in the early stages of selling. When prospects don't know you, they tend to be much more reserved in the information they share. Many are not comfortable telling you about their "warts and blemishes" (i.e., their needs, challenges, weaknesses and concerns) until you've established some rapport. To get around this hesitancy, use a scenario question. As the name implies, the scenario question paints a scenario that addresses a problem or concern without putting the prospect on the spot. Here are a couple of examples:

"Ms. Bixby, much of our research with our clients shows that cash flow is sometimes an issue particularly with the fluctuating price of oil. Let me ask you, what has been your experience with cash flow over the last year or so?"

"Scott, we are getting more and more feedback from IT Directors and managers from large corporations regarding the misuse of licensing agreements. It's creating some concerns about compliance. Let me ask you: what has been your experience with this so far?"

The scenario question is based on the premise that misery loves company. You want the prospect to think, "Gee, if others are experiencing the same thing then it's okay for me to open up." Master the scenario question and you'll get to needs quicker, reduce your sales cycle and convert more sales in less time.

4. The Net Impact Question

Even if you use a scenario question and the client opens up to you, it doesn't necessarily mean that the prospect's need is strong enough for him to take action. One of the best questions you can ask to determine the depth and breadth of a need is the net impact question. Here are two versions:

"So what's the net impact on your firm when cash flow is tight?" Or, "What's the possible net impact if licensing agreements are abused in your branch offices?"

The net impact forces your prospect to think about the rippling effect of a problem. It gets him to do some analysis. In effect, you want him to say, "Gee, I never thought of it like that." Suddenly, seemingly minor problems become more significant. Or, you learn the net impact is minor. If so, avoid wasting your time. Move on. Because the question is opened-ended it gets your client to expand and elaborate. You get information and information is power.

5. The Explain Question
Here's a versatile question you can use in many different scenarios. It gets the client to open up by enticing him to speak up, expand, pontificate, ruminate, elaborate and articulate.

For instance, suppose the prospect tosses the classic price objection. Say this, "Eric, could you explain to me what you mean by 'too high'?" You're asking him to elaborate. Is the price too high relative to what - budget? A competitive bid? Or, is it a smokescreen? Regardless, the client must open up.

Suppose your client says "We're not all that happy with flux modulators." Try, "Wendi, could you explain to me why you're not happy?" This is a buying signal. Exploit it.
Suppose the prospect says, "Well, I'd have to go to committee with that proposal." Respond with, "I understand completely. Joel, can explain to me how the committee operates and how they go about evaluating a proposal?"

Suppose you're probing for needs. You can say, "Ms. Barton, explain to me the challenges you're experiencing in penetrating the Canadian market."

6. The Make Sense Question
Call this one a trial close. Keep it handy because you'll use it a lot. Use this simple, close-ended question after pitching your product or tackling an objection. For example, suppose you have presented a financial planning strategy regarding mutual funds. Just ask,

"Does that make sense to you so far?" Or, "Am I making sense to you right now?"

This question does a couple of things. First, it tosses the conversation back into your prospect's lap. This creates 'give and take' dialog. It forces you to relinquish control of the call and stops you from rambling. Second, the make sense question helps you gauge whether the client is on board or not. But, you must listen to the words and tone of your client. If your prospect says, "Ya sure, I guess" with a vague and uncertain tone, clearly it does not make sense. Stop right there and reverse gears by saying, "It sounds like I may have confused things a bit and I sense some hesitancy. Can you explain to me what you're thinking?" (Notice the use of the versatile explain question.) On the other hand, if the client gives you a positive and enthusiastic, "Ya, it makes total sense" they have, in effect, given you a buying signal.

Don't be afraid to liberally pepper your sales call with make sense questions. Variations include, "Do you follow?," "How does that sound to you?" and "Am I on the right track?"

7. The Removal Question
Here's a question that will help you deal with objections and concerns. The removal question efficiently 'removes' the issue at hand and asks the client her thoughts based on that scenario. Suppose a prospect says, "It's really great, but it's just not in our budget." You reply:

"Fair enough, Brandi. Let me ask, if budget was not an issue, would you proceed with the proposal as outlined?"

If Brandi says yes, then you can negotiate or come up with terms or arrange financing because her objection is not a smokescreen but the real thing. If she says, "Well, ya, but I am also a little concerned about the maintenance program," you've discovered that it's not a budgetary issue or that budget is only part of a number of issues.

Suppose the client says, "Well, I have to go to the buying group on this one." You say, "I understand. Steve, suppose there wasn't a buying group, what would be your decision?" By removing the objection, you can determine if Steve's on board or not. Either way, you are well on the way to handling the client's issue.

8. The Try Question
It's time to close the sale. One of the best questions to close the sale is this:

"So, Angie, would you like to give it a try?" or, "Why not give it a try?"

I stole this question from Jeffrey Fox, author of "How to Become a Rainmaker." He calls it a killer sales question and he's right. I use it now and I cannot sell without it. Why? Because, as Fox explains, to most people 'try' is a revocable act, a decision that can be reversed. It sounds and feels temporary. Fox concludes that people feel that to try something is a sample or a test, not a commitment to buy. But in reality, they either buy or they don't buy. There is no "try" buy. But, psychologically the prospect has an easier time making the decision to say yes to the purchase.

These are eight of the best selling questions of all time. These are classics that work. You will sell better, and sell more, when you use them.

Jim Domanski is a tele-sales expert and president of Teleconcepts Consulting. Teleconcepts Consulting helps businesses and individuals who are frustrated with the results they have being getting when using the telephone to market and sell their products.

For more information visit: www.TeleconceptsConsulting.com.

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Comment by Deborah Johnson on December 1, 2009 at 12:33am
I like how you worded your question Brad; it's a new approach for me. I was tought to say, besides yourself who else will you include in the decision making process. If I already know they are not the decision maker I don't want them to know I know because at that point they become gatekeepers!
Comment by Josh on November 17, 2009 at 5:29am
Just discovered your site via a Twitter post. Fantastic list Deborah. Would like to submit one more question that's worked well for me. The "Open Question". You can use it when you're trying to open up a dialogue with a new lead. It's a non threatening question that can be used during a cold call to get the conversation started.

"Would you be open to learning about a new technology that may help your firm drive more leads?"

Credit given to Ari Graper, from unlockthegame for this language.
Comment by Andrew on November 16, 2009 at 10:53am
Deborah: great summary of questions. I like that you didn't get bogged down in tiny details of sales discovery. This is important because selling situations are so varied, that there is no such thing as "one size fits all" when it comes to sales questions. Overall, salespeople are trying to uncover selling risks and opportunities--both for themselves and for their prospects. I encourage people to allow their gut-level questions (eg "will this sales engagement be valuable for me and for my prospect?"), and to break down the questions that uncover the required facts.

An article I wrote on the topic, "The Right Sales Questions Will Get the Right Answers," describes two true situations from sales engagements I've worked on: http://www.customerthink.com/article/right_sales_question_get_right...
Comment by Brad Roderick on September 20, 2009 at 12:50am
Deborah, I like your list of questions. I agree that the key to offering up value (the basis for solid and lasting sales success) is asking questions. The "Who" question is one of the more important questions that must always be posed, but I find salespeople rarely ask it. Many salespeople assume they are talking with the right person instead of verifying it as factual. I would add that when the question is posed straight forward, you will generally receive an answer but it is often incorrect and/or misleading. Many people have the power to say, "No", while few can say, "Yes". One of the tools I have used for two decades is to ask the question in a more open-ended manner. "The last time your company made this type of business decision, how did they go about the process". This allows me much greater insight into "how they really do things around here". Once I understand their process, then I can work to identify the appropriate people that I need to speak with.

Brad Roderick






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