Asking questions – four traps to avoid

Asking questions

The research has consistently shown that in successful calls the buyer talks more than the seller and the seller ask more questions.  Because of these findings, asking questions is recognized as a fundamental sales skill.

Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to observed hundreds of sales reps making sales calls and have isolated four traps they tend to fall into when asking questions:

  • Interrogating the customer. Every sales manager has encountered this at one time or another – the sales rep who fails to distinguish between asking questions to generate a business discussion of value to the customer and an interrogation.  The simplest way to avoid this trap is not to ask too many yes-no type questions.
  • Wasting the customer’s time. In times past many questions in a call were situation questions – in successful calls a rough average was around 70%.  These questions are designed to solicit information.  Today, a significant amount of that information can be found out before the call.  And customers expect sales reps to do just that! An additional way to avoid this wasting time trap is to periodically check with the customer that you are pursuing a topic of interest.  This is a particularly telling trap if you are calling on senior executives.
  • Manipulating the customer. This sort of represents the dark side of asking questions.  If one is pretty good at asking questions, manipulating the customer is possible.  The simple answer – don’t do it either intentionally or unintentionally.  An effective way to avoid any problem in this area is to tell the customer why you are asking questions about a particular topic.
  • Failing to ask, listen, then talk. Too many times sales reps talk too much and talk too soon.  They jump in with a solution before they have a shared vision of the problem.  This trap not only occurs frequently; it also has a number of negative consequences – one being it tends to generate objections.

Developing good questioning skills remains an important sales competency.  But it is harder than it might first appear.  One step on the journey to excellence is avoiding avoidable traps.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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