Ask Questions Instead of Selling

Published on April 13, 2012 by Tracey Fieber

Salespeople don’t have the greatest reputation. That’s largely because the “traditional” method of making sales involves heavy “selling,” which essentially means attempting to force customers to buy something they may not want or need.

Naturally, that process—even when it is successful—backfire. Salespeople as a whole get a reputation as being untrustworthy, and individual salespeople who are dishonest or forceful likely can’t rely on repeat customers from among those they bully into buying.

Thank goodness things have changed. Today, most salespeople (whether they’re in retail or they’re small-business owners) understand that the old ways of “selling” won’t cut it for sophisticated prospective clients who can do extensive research before even entering a conversation with a salesperson.

But not everyone whose livelihood depends on selling understands one of the most powerful techniques for closing sales: asking questions

Asking Questions to Sell

Here’s what the sales process looks like when a salesperson asks her prospect open-ended questions rather than launching into a prepared sales pitch:

  • The salesperson uncovers valuable information about the prospect, including desires, fears, pain points, immediate needs, and long-term goals.
  • As the salesperson processes this information, he or she can determine whether or not the prospect could benefit from what’s being sold. If so, the salesperson can steer the conversation (by asking appropriate questions) so that the prospect begins to see a solution that includes this product or service.
  • During the process of answering all the salesperson’s questions, the prospect eventually sells him- or herself on the product or service in question.
  • After freely choosing to make a purchase, the client may go on to either become a repeat customer or to sell friends on the product by talking it up.

To ensure that your question-driven sales process is successful, it’s important to remember a couple of key things:

  1. Listen. If you aren’t actually listening to what your prospective client has to say, you might as well be giving a sales pitch.
  2. Be honest. The point of listening is to determine whether your products and services might actually help your prospect. If they won’t, don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. You’ll only end up with frustration on all sides. Instead, explain yourself and refer the prospect to someone who might be a better match.
  3. Know what kind of questions to ask. Effective questions should be open-ended and should move from the general to the specific (e.g. start with “Why did you decide to look into this solution?” and “What are your expectations for this project?”).
  4. Focus on the client’s needs, not yours. Even if you badly “need” to make a sale, it isn’t wise to sell to a client who won’t benefit from your services. The more honestly you attempt to meet a client’s needs, the better you position yourself as someone worthy of future business.

There’s an art to selling—and it begins with listening!

Published in Business