Can I Ask You a Question?

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You hear it again and again: “In sales, it’s important that you ask good questions.” Then you are likely to hear, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” These are great sayings but sales people still seem to fail both these tests. Asking good questions, understanding the buyer’s true wants, needs and motivation all while demonstrating you truly care about the customer is vital to making the sale.

After studying sales and great sales people now for 25 years I have discovered the following common truth: The person that controls the sale is not the person asking the questions but the person that gets answers to their questions! Far too often a salesperson will go down a path of determining a client’s needs and never get an answer. You must get your questions answered even when the customer appears closed off and resistant to providing information. Asking questions is NOT control. Getting answers will allow you to control the sales cycle.

Then there is the other very obvious mistake of too many salespeople, business owners and professionals asking very bad questions that cause the customer to further resist and close down rather than open up.

The three biggest mistakes sales people make when trying to understand a customer’s needs are:

  1. Asking bad questions.
  2. Not getting an answer to their questions.
  3. Not listening to the answers the prospect gives.

Any of these three things will make your job more difficult and may even cost you the sale.

Here are BAD questions:

1. “Can I help you?”
The answer to this question is typically “No” Which means you’ve lost all chance to interact with your prospect. Instead, ask, “What brings you in today?”

2. “What is your budget?”
First off, most people have no clue and secondly, when they give you an answer it will always start your discovery process with you chasing a number that is unachievable. As a buyer my budget is determined once my problem is solved. More often than not, I exceed my desired budget range by many times. A better way to ask this question is to find out what they paid for a similar product in the past. “The last time you rented an apartment what did you pay?” Past experiences are a good barometer for a customer’s future actions.

3. “Are you the final decision-maker?”
This causes people to think that if they are not then you are not interested in them and many will answer this question “yes,” even when it’s not the case. That’s because the question challenges the person’s ego. A better way to ask is “Other than yourself, who else might influence the decision?”

4. “When are you thinking of buying?”
The customer translates this to mean that you are only concerned with yourself and your commission. This makes you sound self-serving and sleazy. Instead, ask a question like, “What caused you to come in or call me today? Why today? What has caused you to consider or investigate this now?” The reason this is much better is you are not just getting an answer as to when, but why. This comes straight out of my book Sell or Be Sold: people buy things for only one reason, to solve a problem.

5. “What would it take for you to do business with me today?”
The ultimate stereotypical salesman question that even the sales person hates to ask. Typically management pushes for this ‘commitment’ question in order to create urgency to purchase. I have been in front of thousands of sales people and can tell you most will not ask this question due to poor results and discomfort.

To get a sense of where you’re at in the sales process, try this instead, “On a scale from 1-10 how comfortable are you with this product for solving your problem?” or better than that, don’t ask and assume it is the right time by saying, ‘Follow me and allow me to show you how easy it is to get started.”

Dispel the myth that the person asking questions is in control – this is NOT true. The person that gets answers to questions is the person that controls the sale. Once you start down a path of questioning, get the answer by caring enough to persist and get an answer.

You – “The last time you bought a mattress what brand was it and how much did you spend?”
Customer – “I don’t remember.”
You – “Ok, what brand comes to mind and about how much was it?”
Customer – “I think it was SoftyFirmy but don’t remember the price.”
You – “Do you think it was more than $2,500 or less?”

If you want to be more effective and increase your closing ratio you have to ask great, professional questions that demonstrate that you care and get the answers to those questions.

Be great!

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