“Why don’t you live with your Dad anymore?” my son Matthew asked a few years ago. ”Cos Mum and Dad fight too much” came the other little voice.
Two nine year olds, whilst manoeuvring their play station controllers, were having a simple conversation. Even though only nine, it brought home to me the innate ability most children have to get straight to the point and ask the most pointed questions – and get an equally direct and honest answer.
Their questioning is spot on – they don’t tend to mince their words. If they want something they have no issue in asking for it – as all of us parents are well aware.
The smart ones even do their homework. They figure out the best time to ask Mum and may even check with Dad first. Most of all they phrase their questions in such a way that you can’t give them vague answers like “I’ll see” or “We’ll talk about it later.” They want specifics!
In selling, our approach to successful client conversations and our outcomes will also rely on the quality of questions that we ask.
They will also determine how we differentiate ourselves from the salesperson who has been before us or will follow after us. They may also help us move to a new level in our business.
Our quality of questions will give us the direct and honest answers that we need in order to have a credible conversation.
Let me give you some examples:-
• When making a sales call – how many salespeople ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” Is there ever a good time for someone to talk to a salesperson they have never met? You already have their attention – now make the most of that opportunity.
• Have you ever said; ‘Tell me a little about your business”. How many salespeople do you think your prospect would hear from in any given week? Imagine how many times that question would be asked. Especially today with information so readily available.
• What about ‘what keeps you up at night?’ Really? You truly might not want to go there, instead be more commercial. Go to the table with typical problems your buyer would be facing, take the lead, use those challenges as a benchmark and be prepared to get it wrong.
• For starters, all professional salespeople should do their research. If they are unsure about something then perhaps they can leverage off that research by showing some intelligent vulnerability, “In having a quick look at your website/annual report/brochure, there are a couple of areas that I am not sure about – I’m wondering if you could clarify those areas for me?”
• How about the age old – “Are you involved in the decision making process?” What percentage of people are not going to say they are involved, especially if you have already got through the initial approach and you are sitting with them. A better phraseology would be “Can you tell me how the decision is actually made?” or “Who else, other than yourself, is involved in making the final decision?” because that is presupposing someone else is involved without excluding your contact.
• Another question that will elicit the answer you do not want is “Are you satisfied with the level of service/the feedback from clients/the speed of delivery…that you are currently getting?” Of course they are! If you do not already have a strong relationship then they may even lie to you to get rid of you. People resist being sold and any opportunity to not be truthful, many will take!
By knowing their industry and their business through doing your research or through experience, then you’re going to be more aware of those issues and challenges and you’ll be more capable of asking more relevant questions.
Ask questions that start with WHAT and not WHY or HOW. It makes them think deeper and allows them to give you more thought provoking answers.
“What is an example of poor service levels you have experienced? What has been a negative example of client feedback you have received? What is one example of poor delivery you have been through?
These are purely examples but the methodology behind the questions allows you to continue a more meaningful conversation. Our objective is to also help our prospect or customer think a little harder in order to discuss and provide new ideas.
When you get on purpose with your questions, things happen. If you’re vague, people will put you off forever.
Our kids have figured that out – now we, as business people who sell, need to do the same.