Updated March 25 at 6:25am

It’s your questions that will make the sale

Guest Column:
John Graham
Even though buying cycles seem to stretch out longer as buyers require more time to make decisions, salespeople are doing their best to close quicker.

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It’s your questions that will make the sale


Even though buying cycles seem to stretch out longer as buyers require more time to make decisions, salespeople are doing their best to close quicker.

Much of what’s popular in selling, such as sales techniques, figuring out a prospect’s hot buttons and schmoozing and even relationship-building, can be enormously overrated.

Here’s the problem. Simply put, too much of what passes for “best practices” in sales focuses on what the salesperson should do to get the order, starting with a perfected “elevator speech.”

To make the concept vivid, the salesperson is like the classroom teacher of 30 or more years ago who was the “instructor,” the one who was in charge and who passed information to the often passive and less-than-attentive “learners.”

The result? Good salespeople with great products and services that are a good fit for their customers lose sales because they take the role of “instructor,” passing information to passive and often inattentive “learner-customers.”

Such behavior is understandable. Whether it’s the unpredictability of an extended buying cycle or the fear of a competitor entering the picture, they sense the possibility of losing the sale and immediately response by getting into a “control mode,” cutting corners, taking shortcuts and jumping to the close before the customer is ready to buy.

Faced with such a reality every working day, it becomes clear that the critical component for making more sales is gaining the customer’s trust as quickly as possible. It has always been important, but never as much as it is today. Trust is the bond that endures no matter the length and difficulty of the selling cycle.

To be totally clear about trust, it doesn’t develop from schmoozing, making unverified or exaggerated claims, or providing incomplete information. Today’s customers are doubters; they’ve been burned too often. They want value – lots of value – for their money.

Distrust is so fundamental today that those who ask a friend, family member or co-worker for a referral, engage in their own vetting process before making a decision.

Salespeople understand the trust issue and they have their own views about how to develop it. We’ve heard most of the solutions: respect, acting with integrity, being responsible, sincere, honest, truthful and on and on it goes. Unfortunately, the words are generalizations, lacking specificity – they don’t mean anything to customers.

What do salespeople do to create trust? Trust develops between customer and salesperson when the salesperson asks the right questions. It’s the questions that create value, understanding and confidence.

The goal of asking questions is to probe until it’s clear the customer is satisfied. Of course, the questions will differ based on your research of the prospect. They don’t need to be complex, but they must drill down to the heart of the issue.

Here are examples of questions that help create trust:

Getting started

• What problems are you experiencing?

• What’s going on now that bothers you?

• What do you want to accomplish and in what time frame?

• What makes you dissatisfied with what you’re currently using?

• What do you like? What don’t you like?

• What do you expect from a sales rep?

Before meeting ends

• What’s better or worse than what you have now?

• How did you feel about this meeting?

• Is there anything that seems to be missing?

• Do you feel you have adequate information?

• Do you feel uneasy about anything?

• Where would you like to go from here?

• Are my answers sufficiently understandable and complete?

• Did I probe sufficiently to understand your situation, your needs?

• How can I improve my presentation?

• Was I more helping or selling?

Then, what happens after the sale becomes the most important component in the sales process.

After the sale, follow up with questions, whether a week or a month later:

• How do you feel about your purchase?

• What have you been thinking about?

• Do you have any doubts, issues or concerns?

• Is there anything you would like to be different?

• Is there anything you would like me to do?

As valuable as information is for a successful sales process, asking probing questions produces more than just information. It’s the most effective way to help customers become deeply involved in a dialogue – a conversation – that becomes an intriguing exercise in further discovery. It’s the way for the sales process to become an adventure, rather than a drag.

The relentless task of asking questions also helps customers clarify their thinking, discover what they may have missed, revisit their assumptions, and reconsider their opinions. It’s the way to build trust and get to the right results.

The task of today’s salesperson goes way beyond product knowledge and even “solutions.” It’s to help customers discover possibilities they may not have considered or even thought about.

It’s your questions that make the sale. •

John R. Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales consultant.


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