Questioning Skills 

“The questions you ask determine what you see”

As salespeople we all believe that questions come naturally to us but what would you say if I told you that in our training courses, we typically create a five-fold improvement in the ability for a salesperson to ask relevant questions using a simple exercise that takes a matter of minutes? Surprised? It’s true…

Questioning skills help you do a number of things. They enable you to find out information, they can help build your credibility, they can help raise awareness and responsibility in the person you are selling to and they can absolutely differentiate you from the competition.

So, why do salespeople not focus on questioning skills as a critical element of their performance? Well, simply put, they have generally stopped learning. They have got into habits that bring about a result and they simply choose to focus on other things. You see, the important word in that sentence for me is “choose”. Once you realise that how you use questions is a choice that you exercise you can do something about it.

We all know, intellectually, that closed questions get agreement and open questions get information but, in the moment, and fuelled by our desire for a result and a mistaken view that we actually do know what the other person is thinking, our proportion of closed or assumptive questions is often shocking.

Some common mistakes salespeople make when asking questions include:

  • Asking closed questions that are based on their assumptions of what they think is true (this closes down your options!)
  • Asking a great open question…and then jumping in with your ‘preferred’ multiple choice answers. Again, this will undo any value in asking the question
  • Not asking enough questions before making any recommendation. Our comfort is often with our product or service and, unconsciously, we get to that as quick as we can

If you do not do the above you are in the minority.

So, what can you do that will really make an improvement in your questioning skills? Here are some ‘top tips’:

  • Spend some time thinking about and planning the right questions before your next meeting. Planning is an important (but non-urgent) task and doing it regularly will definitely make you more skillful.
  • When you ask a great open question…SHUT UP! Most people ask a great question then jump into the silence with a multiple choice answer because they get uncomfortable with the silence. Here is the great thing: the amount of silence following a question is in direct proportion to the thinking required to answer it! You want your prospects to think so give them the time to do that.
  • After your sales conversations, make time to review the questions you asked and determine what worked. This will help you fine tune your questioning skills and become more natural at asking the ‘right’ questions.
  • Force yourself to focus on questions before you get to showing or discussing your product or service. Resist the urge to show them the goods before you have a clear idea (and not just an assumption) of their specific needs.
  • Ask all of your prospects “what’s important to you about … your product/service/a supplier”. This will give you critical information that will enable you to differentiate yourself.

One key action: plan your questions. Make the time to do this simple thing and your questioning skills and your performance will improve.

As the quote at the start of this blog states: the questions you ask will determine what you see. Make sure you don’t just see what you want to see or what you think is there. Use questions to be curious and then certain. And then talk about what you can do to help them…