Imagine you get a phone call from a male vendor you've never met who asks you, in quick succession, this series of questions: "How long have you been in business? How many employees do you have? What's your budget for my type of equipment? Whom do you buy from now? Will you be the person making the final decision?"
How would you react? If you're a man, you may think this caller is a no-nonsense guy who's short on personality. If you're a woman, chances are you think he's rude and pushy, and you're unlikely to send business his way.
Let's look at the flip side. Say you're meeting for the first time with a female entrepreneur who asks you these questions: "What difficulties did you encounter getting your business started? What challenges might affect your equipment budget? How do you feel about your present supplier? What would you look for in a firm to replace that supplier?"
If you're a woman, you may find this entrepreneur's questions thought-provoking and engaging. But if you're a man, you're likely to feel you're being unduly probed, asked to reveal feelings and emotions to someone you've just met.
The secret to success in every interaction with prospects is to ask effective questions and listen carefully to the answers. It's vital that you evaluate your communication style and learn to ask questions that help you put prospects at ease and gain information about their needs.
I've mentioned the terms "open ended" and "closed ended" questions in a previous column. Closed-ended questions can be answered with "yes," "no" or a simple fact. All the questions the male vendor asked in my first example were closed-ended questions--good conversation starters. Open-ended questions are "thinking, feeling, finding" questions. They reveal the emotions behind the answers and can give you more information about your prospect's state of mind and actual needs. All the questions the female entrepreneur asked were open ended.
In unfamiliar situations, such as a typical sales transaction, men tend to rely on closed-ended questions while women favor open-ended questions. The key to closing more sales is learning to use both types of questions with ease--even under pressure. By asking open-ended questions and listening to the answers, you'll be able to understand prospects' objections and offer solutions to overcome them.
If you ask only closed-ended questions, such as "Who is your current supplier?" you may never find out that supplier is often late on deliveries and requires orders to be placed 10 days in advance. But if you follow the closed-ended question with the open-ended query "What do like best about your current supplier?" your prosect is likely to volunteer that information. Then you can offer a solution that meets his or her needs, such as guaranteed on-time delivery and only 24 hours notice on all orders.
Closed-ended questions are more than good conversation starters. They're great conversation closers, too. Say you're speaking with a prospect and your goal is to set an appointment. Use a specific closed-ended question, such as, "Is Tuesday at 3:00 good for you?" Continue naming dates and times until you have an agreement. If you've asked great questions, listened carefully to the answers and provided solutions that meet your prospect's needs, you'll succeed time after time.