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Ask Questions as if You had Nothing to Lose

Funny thing; ask good, thought-provoking questions and customers start to understand you better. Most traditional sales people continue to falsely assume that they are maximizing their leverage by what they have to say, instead of what they have to ask.

Truth is the process, not the content. The process of questions is the best way to project the truth and find the truth. It is the process of penetrating questions that influences. Your information should be predominately used as a tool for inquiry.

You do not want to transfer knowledge. You want to give customers the tools to self-discover for themselves their own answers and to see their business or problems in a totally different light. The tool of your trade is questioning. The key is not to give new content. The key is to give new context. "You're ultimately judged and evaluated by your questions (context) not your answers (content)," says Brian Neale.

The mind that has no humility has very limited ability to ask a lot of questions. "Know it alls" have no reason to ask questions. Their vast knowledge suppresses any need for inquiry and curiosity. So be in a state of constant inquiry and curiosity. When you "know it all" there is no room to learn anything new and understand your customer through their eyes and their unique perspective.

Customers ultimately would prefer to creatively figure out their problems independently and credit themselves. Good question give them that choice and psychological edge. Most customers do not want a self-righteous fixer. Top-performing sales people (non-fixers) do more with less, and underperforming sales people do less with more. Questions are the epitomy of the "less is more" school of philosophy in sales.

In order for questions to be impartial they cannot be employed as a means to an end, or as a tool to reach forgone conclusions. There are no forgone conclusions when a sales person has no self-interest. There is very little room for enthusiasm and highly charged sales pitches when a sales person is impartial. Try to promote natural conversations without coercion, fluff, spin or implied obligation.

It is important to discover firsthand, without assumption, the customer's outlook and opinion. Because sales people are so knowledgeable about their industry they tend to neglect to ask questions, and therefore forfeit the chance to really connect and learn about their customers. So even when you have the right solution it is not always trusted because you did not spend the right time understanding the customer. You need to reinvestigate each customer as if they were totally different and unique; even if they are not. Conventional sales people tend to overreact with immediate opinions, solutions, recommendations and conclusions, resulting in customers thinking they were not really heard even if they were.

Strategic questions are a process of exclusion. You want to naturally exclude, weed out, filter and discriminate against poorly qualified prospects in a very professional and nurturing way. Too many sales people employ flimsy questions that cater too much to inclusion of everyone. They fear asking questions that will actually rule out a customer. A process of elimination is a narrowing down strategy that is best suited for efficiency minded sales people who respect the time of all parties at the selling engagement.

Ask questions not to get data and information to build your case, or to create a riveting proposal. Rather, ask questions to assess, appraise and evaluate a customer's openness to new ideas and open dialogue. Most mainstream sales people evaluate solely on openness to their own solution. Less than 2% of the selling population has the natural gift to pierce through entrenched beliefs and opinions of their customers. Most sales people, with the right questions, can lead customers to natural conclusions, if they are open minded. The idea is to use questions not to sell someone, but to assess whether they are "sellable" and open to taking action. If you want to be an adherent of strategic, thought-provoking questions, you have to reconcile which one is more practical, realistic and efficient; motivating someone to buy, or understanding who is motivated to buy.

Sales people who are masterful questioners are always asking thought-provoking questions not because they do not know the answers, because they want to know their customer's outlook. Without the customer's unique point of view, all future advice, solutions and answers are suspect and looked upon with apprehension. Custom solutions without custom questions are rarely possible. If your customers does not want custom questions, then more than likely they are going to treat you like a commodity.

So often customers do not get the right outcomes, because they do not ask themselves the right questions. It is the job of the sales person to help them ask the right questions. They need to better understand the thing they are trying to fix, as opposed to understand the things they are trying to achieve. Generally, the problem must first be understood before the solution can be understood. Customers often think it is the easy answer that is the solution. But often it is not. We must ask fundamental questions to get to the heart of the matter. And that is not easy for most sales people and customers.

Some customers have a "do not ask do not tell attitude." If you do not ask the right questions, in the right way, at the right time they will not be in any mood to give you the right answers. If your line of inquiry does not reinforce their ego and their point of view they will not cast pearls before swine. Customers want your thought-provoking questions to help them feel smart, important and to feel understood. That is assuming that they trust you and value your insight.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com