5 Keys to a Good Question

When involved in selling, it is critical that we truly understand our customers’ needs, interests and priorities. Otherwise it is nearly impossible to close the sale!

Need assessment requires good communication skills; primarily probing and listening, which we have found are complementary in nature. Consider that by asking better questions we are able to uncover better information, which enables better listening and leads to better need assessment.

But be careful!

It can be easy to get carried away and ask too many questions, in which case we run the risk of annoying our buyer. Or, if too many of our questions are phrased in a “closed-ended” style (i.e., yes-or-no questions), our sales call can take on the feeling of an interrogation!

Instead, it’s best to prepare a series of strategic questions in advance. One effective exercise is to list at least twenty things we might like to know about our customers or prospects, and then craft five or six open-ended questions that might get us the answers to all twenty items.

If this sounds like an exercise you might find helpful, here are five keys that will help you to both create good questions and put them to effective use:

1.) When probing to learn about prospects and customers, or to assess their needs, focus on what people hope to accomplish rather than what they “think they need.” This perspective is consistent with a consultative selling style, and can help us add value.

2.) Create a list of questions (in writing) that you can use repeatedly
Include questions that follow the following four guidelines:

  • Create both open-ended and closed-ended questions then you will be able to select appropriately during sales calls to control flow. Open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No”) promote conversation, while closed-ended questions tend to curb it.
  • Create polite “prompts.” These are helpful when people fail to provide complete answers. Use the “prompt” questions to get them to continue… to tell you more.
  • Create trial closing questions. As opposed to “closing” questions, which seek decisions, trial closing questions seek opinions, and they help us to confirm both understanding and receptivity (buy-in!). They are important because they enable us gather real-time feedback from our buyers, and they facilitate easier closing. Examples: “What do you think so far?” or “Would that work for your organization?
  • Create statement / question combinations to position potentially-difficult questions. These combinations begin with a clarifying statement, such as, “Many people tell us they have trouble handling X, Y and Z… how does your organization deal with these challenges?” OR “In our experience, two or three people were involved in making final decisions about taking on a new supplier; how does your decision-making process work?” When phrased effectively, these combinations serve two important purposes: ONE, they give people “amnesty” by explaining others have encountered similar issues; TWO: they help buyers understand “why” we are asking certain questions, which often makes them feel more comfortable about answering those questions.

3.) Ask only purposeful questions. Each question should be asked for a reason, so it is important; don’t accept vague or incomplete answers. Instead, use one of your “prompt” questions (as noted above). Also, please keep in mind that vague answers are often due to poor questions!

4.) Ask only one question at a time, and let others answer each question

5.) Use your list during and after sales calls. Conduct on-going post-call assessments to determine whether or not your questions were effective. If so, use them again; if not, improve as necessary.

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