I recently wrote an article called, Feeble Questions Can Kill Your Business. In the article, I stated that too many sales people get caught in the trap of asking low-quality questions instead of more powerful ones. Many people contacted me and requested more information on what constitutes a great question. This article will address that issue.

First, the reason it is important to ask questions is to gain a thorough understanding of each customer’s situation including their needs, wants, desired results, decision-making process as well as potential concerns and roadblocks. Most salespeople understand this—at least at a fundamental level. In virtually every sales training workshop I conduct, participants nod when we discuss the importance of asking questions early in the sales process. However, in real life, they often skip through this stage in order to present their product, or discuss a solution. It’s only when the customer raises an objection that many sales people backtrack and ask questions. Unfortunately, they have the process backward.

Powerful questions can help you demonstrate your expertise. Powerful questions demonstrate that you are not an average person selling a product, service or solution. And powerful questions help you determine the best way to present your solution. So what constitutes a powerful question?

Powerful questions are designed to make your customer think. The majority of salespeople I encounter are hesitant about asking deep, thought-provoking questions because they are afraid that their prospect will find them invasive. However, the higher up in an organization you sell, the more important it is to ask these types of questions simply because executives are used to asking—and answering—tough questions. In fact, if you sell to senior level executives, it is essential to ask high-level questions. Here are a few examples;

 What goals are you striving to achieve this quarter?
 How do those targets compare to last year’s results?
 What, if anything, is preventing you from achieving these goals?

However, do NOT start your conversation with questions like this because you have to earn the right to ask them, especially if you do not have an established relationship. It is much better to begin by demonstrating your expertise, industry knowledge, and understanding of your prospect’s business and/or company.

 We’ve noticed several trends occurring in the industry lately. The two that stand out the most are… How are these affecting you and your business?
 When I was doing some research, I noticed on your website that your company is… What progress are you making on that initiative?

These questions are powerful because it shows that you have done some preliminary research or homework and executives appreciate that. In fact, many of them would like their own sales team to take this approach before calling on a new prospect. Questions like this also demonstrate that you know what is happening in business as well as your customer’s industry.

It is critical to note that I am NOT suggesting that you spend fifteen minutes lecturing to your prospect trying to show them how smart you are. The goal is to be prepared and to demonstrate this preparation by asking key questions.

Assuming you have captured your prospect’s attention you can move the sales process forward by asking other powerful questions that focus on an outcome. It is critical to understand that most people, especially business people, do not make buying decisions based on your ability to spew out product specifications and information. Instead, they want to know what result they can expect. In other words, your prospect wants to know how your solution will affect their top line (sales) or bottom line (profits).

Will they make more money? Will they gain more market share? Will they increase brand recognition? Will they be able to compete more effectively? Will they save money? Improve morale? Increase productivity? Reduce costs in a specific area(s)?

That means you need to be prepared to ask questions that focus on the future. When I talk to new prospects about sales training, I usually ask what their current conversion ratio is. In other words, what percentage of sales do they close compared to the qualified leads they generate? Then I ask what ratio they would like to reach after the training. Depending on my prospect’s goals and objectives, we may also talk about the size and scope of each sale and what increase they would like to experience. This information then helps me position my solution and the positive financial impact training will have on their business. Consider these questions.

 What is the ideal outcome you would like to see or experience?
 How does this compare with your current results?
 You mentioned that you want to improve employee morale with this initiative. Can you tell me what that looks like?
 You have stated that increasing market awareness is one of your primary objectives. How will you know that you have succeeded?

Lastly, other powerful questions will help you determine the priority of this decision, how the decision will be made, and what potential roadblocks may prevent you from moving forward. Here are few examples.

 How does this project rank in priority compared to the others you are working on?
 Walk me through the process you follow when you consider decisions of this nature?
 Who else do you normally consult with on decisions like this?
 What potential roadblocks might prevent you from moving ahead with this?
 What concerns, if any, do you have about moving forward?

These may sound like difficult questions. But I have learned from experience that most people are willing to answer them if you have the courage to ask.

© 2008 Kelley Robertson, All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Kelley Robertson, author of The Secrets of Power Selling helps sales professionals and businesses pinpoint how they can improve their sales. Receive a FREE copy of “100 Ways to Increase Your Sales” by subscribing to his free newsletter available at www.kelleyrobertson.com. Kelley conducts workshops and speaks regularly at sales meetings and conferences. For information on his programs contact him at 905-633-7750 or Kelley@RobertsonTrainingGroup.com.