Great sales professionals know where they are going with their questioning strategy and what they want to accomplish at every point in the dialogue. They hone their focus on probing, learning, and fully comprehending the client’s needs before ever talking about their own product. In my last blog post, I focused on tips that will help with open-ended questions, today, I will look at probing questions.
Probing questions are at the heart of an effective, consultative selling approach — one that is all about the client, not how much the sales professional knows or the great products to be offered.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
― Theodore Roosevelt
At the start of a client relationship, you should show interest in the other person’s world, which may include work and family responsibilities, hobbies, sports, or career development. Let the client take the lead, and then use probing questions to explore what the client has just said and to demonstrate your level of interest and caring.
Probing questions are a great way to demonstrate to your clients that you are listening and picking up on key “neon words” — those that can be easily overlooked but greatly affect meaning — to ask for clarification and additional information.
Active listening and pacing are key when asking good probing questions. You should be conscious of the pauses and even silence between questions. If you ask a great open-ended probing question and get only silence, be comfortable with the silence. Don’t jump in with another question or repeat the same question (what I call “parrot phrasing”) or answer the question for the client. Show confidence by giving him/her time to think and formulate a response.
Another way to describe probing questions is drill-down questions. Sometimes, too much probing can be counterproductive. It’s helpful to go by the rule of threes: drill down or probe at least three times for every vague word or statement. Too little probing will diminish your chances of uncovering the different levels of the client’s needs. Too much probing will feel like you are in a cat-and-mouse chase, with the conversation going in circles.
If you don’t know where to probe, and the client doesn’t give you clues, use trading to open up new avenues. Trading is the process of giving information to get information. By exchanging information, you can help clients think, often triggering ideas they might not have considered. An example of trading is the following: “We are seeing a big change in the industry with X becoming a much bigger part of the mix. How has this affected your operations?”
A sales professional skilled in using probing questions can more easily build rapport that encourages clients to openly and honestly share information about their needs, decision criteria, pricing, competitors, and other information critical to winning business. With this questioning strategy in your wheelhouse, you will be better able to uncover client needs and then position your product or service in a strategic, client-focused way that wins sales opportunities.