Most good salespeople would tell you that asking good questions during a sales call is key to making the sale. However, if you probed a little deeper into what they are saying is effective, they would probably tell you that the kind of question they ask and how they ask it is what constitutes a good question. The purpose of asking questions in a sales call is to create meaningful engagement that uncovers a need the customer has that you can then meet. This is different than simply having a conversation with a customer. Meaningful engagement is an engagement in which you and the customer exchange valuable information. A well-thought-out question stimulates a deep exchange of information, provides the sales representative and the customer deeper understanding, and eventually leads to discovering an important need the customer has.
Good Sales Questions
Good questions are distinguished from poor questions by the customer’s reaction and response. A good question encourages the customer to share valuable information and stimulates further discussion that will lead to the sale.
What do good questions sound like?
- They are real questions.
If you already know the answer to the question or could have found the answer elsewhere, it’s not a real question. Typically, customers see through leading questions or questions they know you already know the answer to.
- They focus on discovering important information.
A good question focuses on discovering something that is important to the sale and ultimately important to the customer. Questions about trivial matters fail to advance the sale and rarely create engagement.
- They are customized.
Plan good questions before the sales call, and don’t just ask general canned questions. Tailor your questions for the specific customer, the call situation, and the information needed. If you don’t have time to plan the questions and customize them for the specific sales call, then you're better not to ask any questions.
Most sales representatives have heard that they need to ask open-ended questions, which require more than a one-word response, as opposed to closed-ended questions, which customers can answer with one word. This approach isn’t necessarily the only one. Open-ended questions do tend to create more dialogue than closed-ended ones, but the focus shouldn’t be on creating just dialogue but rather on creating meaningful dialogue. There could be instances for which a one-word response to a question uncovers the information you need to obtain. In addition, if you do ask a closed-ended question, you can always follow up with an open-ended question. The point is to focus on asking good questions that uncover real information and create meaningful dialogue, regardless of whether they are open-ended or closed-ended questions.
When asking a good question, consider the following four fundamental questioning techniques:
1. Plan your questions.
Good selling technique dictates that you plan your call, and indeed, many sales representatives plan what they are going to say to the customer. However, the really good ones also plan what questions they are going to ask that will create good engagement.
2. Ask strategic questions.
A strategic question helps you discover the customer’s mindset as it relates to his or her need: why the customer is doing certain things, how the customer approaches a situation, or what is challenging him or her. The goal of questioning is to uncover the customer’s need, which you can then meet with the features and benefits of your product.
3. Listen to understand, not to reply.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey wrote that most people listen to reply, meaning they are already thinking of their response while the other person is speaking. However, a better technique is to listen to understand, meaning you focus only on understanding what the customer is saying and hold your response until you have a thorough understanding of what the customer means. You might need to ask a clarifying question or two to ensure you have a thorough understanding.
One of the most powerful things you can do when asking a question is to pause after you ask it and listen. Good questioning technique is as much about listening as it is about posing questions. A great question is useless if you fail to listen carefully to the response.
The purpose of asking good questions is to create a meaningful engagement that uncovers a need the customer has, which you will meet with your product. To accomplish this, you need to ask real questions that focus on discovering something meaningful and that you customize for the situation and the customer. Good questioning technique allows you to accomplish this through planning, asking strategic questions, listening to understand, and pausing. Good questions aren’t so much about what you ask, but more about the engagement you create and what you discover from that conversation.