Do You Ask Questions to Educate Yourself, or Do You Ask Questions to Educate Your Client?
Empathy is the missing equation for the vast majority of traditional sellers. "They lack the emotional intelligence in seeking to first understand before being understood," says Stephen Covey. It is very hard to directly teach empathy. However, you can teach poignant questioning skills that can lead to the cultivation of empathy.
The old adage of trying to be interested before being interesting is one of the most ignored tactics in our self-possessed society. Only a very small percentage of sales people have the personal power and charm of influence to consistently pull off being interesting before being interested. Good questions alternately make you very interested and at the same time very interesting because of how you can mirror your customer's sense of self-importance.
Question-centered sales people have a depth of commitment to understand before being understood. They are very hands-on mining for information to help customers make decisions and very laissez-faire and hands-off pushing product and solutions.
For customer activists, information serves as a minor adjunct role. These sales people use information primarily as a tool to get more information through questioning that will get the customer an in-depth, fresh view of their business challenges.
Downplay your information, play up your questions to create better informed customers. "Ask questions from which both parties learn – the client learns from articulating the answer, and the seller learns by listening," says Michael McClaughton. Good questions stimulate critical thinking of customers without reinforcing any biased point of view of the sales person.
What customers want more than answers and solutions is an honest and objective appraisal and assessment of their situation. This assessment is best initiated with questions. The goal of good questioning is to remove complexity so it is easier for customers to make informed decisions on to act or not to act. The power of questions is to filter to the truth where the customer can be more introspective and reflective.
Selling with questions is no different than scientific inquiry. It requires a high degree of objectivity, dispassion, and disassociation. Each question is imminent with failure, but the sales person does not retreat. There is no need to seek a haven with safe questions. It is like selling blindfolded, and seeing the light (the truth) at the same time. When you are outcome neutral, and you do not assume a proactive sales posture it means there is little ego, no self-directed agenda, no propaganda; resulting in what you have asked to be far more believable and impactful than what you have to say. Operating in this manner would be for most mainstream sales people like operating in an alternative universe.
"Sales people who have an unhealthy need for approval are afraid to ask their prospects tough questions so they compensate by asking insignificant ones. If the prospect does not react negatively to their presentation, this causes the sales person to believe she has arrived at second base, when in fact she still has one foot on first. Sales people basically lose touch with reality," says Dave Kurlan of OMG. Selling with information is the ultimate in subjectivity and unverifiable evidence. Question-based selling is the ultimate in objectivity where the presence of verifiable proof of concept and evidence are not as important due to the fact that the customer creates their own proof, reality, and evidence.
Conventional sales people ask questions in the spirit of self-preservation and self-orientation. These sales people have a healthy dose of drive, ambition and competitive energy. Which is great until it is not. These very characteristics, when left unchecked, can be disastrous when attempting to be a strategic seller, because blindly pursuing ones's goals and ambitions at the cost of disregarding the goals and ambitions of one's customer is just looking like any other run of the mill sales person. Being self-occupied makes it tough to put another on center stage. Too many mainstream sales people hate the notion that they cannot be formidable and commanding when they ask questions. So they pooh-pooh the idea outright.