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Just Ask

Knowing the right questions to ask can be as powerful as any sales technique.
July 1, 2000
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/29650

Study the most successful salespeople and entrepreneurs in the world, and you'll quickly discover their sales secret: They learn with their minds and sell with their hearts. They go into each sale with a clear objective and ask questions that move them naturally in that direction. They have no need for clever acronyms or techniques (which are almost always more confusing than convincing). They simply ask whatever will get them closest to their objective.

The best way to emulate these successful salespeople is to sell from the heart: by asking questions in an easy, conversational style that lets prospects know they're being listened to. Exactly what and how you ask is up to you. Just remember, questions can help you get the sale in three important ways:

1. Questions give you information. In real (i.e., nonselling) life, you wouldn't just walk up to a stranger and start talking to him or her. Yet that's what many salespeople do: They come into a place of business, introduce themselves and then take that "let me tell you what we do and how much I know" attitude. A more natural, effective approach is to start by asking background questions to get information and insights into that particular customer and company. Typical background questions include:

2. Questions help you qualify. Every question you ask is a qualifying question (including the ones above). There are, of course, basic questions that uncover needs, time frame, budget and decision-makers. But all your questions should be designed to help you determine whether your product or service is right for the particular prospect. (That's what qualifying is all about, isn't it?) Qualifying questions help you understand the uniqueness of each prospect. Take notes so you can document key points and pick up what's most important. Closing isn't difficult when it's a natural extension of your relationship with a prospect, based on your understanding of the benefits your product or service can provide that person.

3. Questions get them talking. A salesperson is really part detective, part scientist, part psychiatrist and part reporter all rolled into one. You gather facts and delve for emotions, and the only way to do that is by getting your prospects to open up and start talking. Elaborating strategies can help you go beneath the surface. The deeper you go, the stronger your foundation for offering customized solutions. A good way to get reluctant talkers talking is by asking questions like:

In sales, the beginner is the expert and the expert is, in actuality, the beginner. The beginner always asks questions and always wants to learn. The poor sales rep works from a closed mind. He thinks he knows everything there is to know and doesn't ask the detailed questions. He spits out his presentation. He becomes an expert at product knowledge but a beginner in understanding customer's needs. The smart salesperson always asks, "How can I improve my relationships? What should I ask to get the information I need and find out how I can serve my customers better?" Only by gathering information to build a foundation will the presentation stand by itself.