If salespeople are going to bring value, new ideas, and insight to customers, they must understand the business issues and the challenges their customers face. Questions are a primary consultative tool for getting that done.
Bringing value can be achieved just as well by the thoughtful question as by fact telling. For example, if the customer seems to be thinking about a business strategy that involve risks, asking questions about how they plan to manage the risks shows you understand their situation and enables you to offer a thoughtful solution later in the discussion. Let’s take a look at five specific payoffs for getting good at asking questions:
1. Asking questions leads to more memorable interactions. Well-planned questions go a long way in establishing your credibility particularly when they are framed around issues and challenges important to the customer.
2. Second, they help salespeople avoid the temptation to jump into the conversation too soon. A common scenario is for the salesperson to start the conversation by asking some thoughtful questions … the customer says something about an issue or concern … and then the salesperson immediately jumps in to provide information related to the answer. Equally often that is a trap since the definition of the problem is incomplete and/or all the issues are yet to be surfaced.
3. Alternatively, asking follow-up questions is an effective way to better understand the scope of the problem as the customer sees it and to explore what the possible strategic, operational, and financial ripple effects might be. Follow-up questions help a salespeople drill down to gain a better understanding of the problems facing the customer, as well as, helping the customer discover new insights about the nature and extent of the problem. It also means that salespeople avoid the temptation of talking about their products too early in the call.
4. Next, questions can be used to assess the potential value of a solution. Questions are not only valuable for exploring the scope of the problem; they are also useful for assessing the potential value of a solution.
By asking questions you can obtain insight about the customer’s view of how the overall situation would be better off if the problem is resolved and the possible downsides of maintaining the status quo. This approach to questioning also provides an opportunity to add a benefit that the customer may not have envisioned as an achievable outcome.
5. Finally, consider using questions for shaping the customer’s point of view. Shaping helps customers redefine a problem in a way that brings value to them and creates a better fit with your capabilities. It is important to emphasize that this use of questions is only legitimate when shaping brings new useful insight to the customer. Trying to persuade the customer to a point of view that is not in their self-interest must be avoided at all cost.
There are two major times in the sales cycle where shaping comes into play. The first time is in the early part of the sales process when the customer is defining their needs.
The second time is when the customer is defining the decision criteria they will use to decide between competitors. Helping customers think differently about the criteria and your capabilities to meet them can be helpful to them and can help position you as the best qualified candidate to deliver the solution.
Two other blogs about asking questions you might find interesting are:
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