When you become more strategic about asking questions, you can often discover important, underlying, and previously unknown issues that matter to the success of prospects and clients.
There’s a skill to asking the right questions at the right time. At Richardson, we include Questioning as one of our Six Critical Skills for sales, and we define it as the ability to explore needs and create dialogue. Open-ended questions allow sales professionals to learn more than just the obvious, observable things. As a result, sales professionals are better able to be more consultative and position the best products and services to meet client needs, while demonstrating understanding and caring in helping clients achieve their goals and objectives.
These five tips will help you get beyond the usual questioning strategy to discover what’s really on the minds of your clients:
- It’s OK to leave your agenda behind. In fact, we encourage it. Going into meetings without preconceived ideas frees you to focus on what is important to clients. You can more easily step into their world, identify their needs and objectives, understand their worries and challenges, and align your offerings with their strategies.
- Don’t focus most of your sales dialogue on open-ended questions related to your product or service. Yes, these are the questions that get you paid: they are your bread and butter, your comfort zone, your go-to questions that help you sell. While these questions are open-ended and elicit important information, they limit the scope of your client knowledge.
- If you are going to ask targeted or focused open-ended questions, make sure that you truly listen to the answer, so you can probe further. There’s no point asking great questions if you don’t actively listen to the answer. It’s human nature to think about your next question or how you can sell your product while the client is talking, but it’s not helpful. The mind likes to chatter; it’s up to you to stay in the moment with the client and hear what is being said.
- Don’t discount information that might not be relevant to your particular sale or conversation. Use a variety of questions to add some flavor to your dialogue and engage your client. You might ask about short-term objectives, key needs, the current situation, the level of satisfaction with current business practices, their long-term strategy, their view of you and your company compared to the competition, budget, decision-making process — the list goes on and on. This kind of questioning strategy can change the client’s perception of you, elevating you from just being a vendor to a partner or advisor. You gain greater credibility by being able to speak their language and can move the conversation from a transactional dialogue to a consultative one.
- Avoid sounding like a prosecuting attorney. Even though you are asking open-ended questions, make sure that you leverage your preparation, acknowledge responses in between questions, and use prefacing statements that let the client know why you are asking something. For example, you might say: “Earlier, you mentioned an interest to do X. How are you planning to go about it?” Then, you can leverage your knowledge and personalize your open-ended question, helping to ensure that the exchange is more of a conversation than an interrogation.
The value in asking open-ended questions is that you don’t just explore the tip of the iceberg — the obvious issues and information. You get to dive beneath the waterline to discover those larger, foundational issues that haven’t yet made it to the surface. And, you may learn a few things that the competition doesn’t know, while helping the client in ways they hadn’t yet realized they needed.