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Never Tell When You can Ask

Because of the dominant importance of problem-solving and identification, the profession of selling is becoming more of a technical skill with more learned behaviors than ever before. Few sales people naturally enter sales with highly honed questioning and listening sensibilities. Moreover, since the skill sets rely heavily on a lessened ego state, it makes it all that more difficult to execute. Selling is slowly moving out of the dark ages and transitioning to a true profession that requires formal education and training because of the importance of questioning skill sets and business acumen.

The rule of thumb in selling is never tell if you can ask, and ask questions to trigger emotions of risk, instead of gathering data and information. Ask questions that your customers are not shrewd enough to consider themselves. Ask questions that give them answers and insight that they never would have arrived at by themselves. Ask questions that they are hiding from. Good questions try to dig deep to uncover inconsistencies and contradictions. This is the value of a true advisor and a strategic questioner.

A good questioner is a troubleshooter and also in some cases a professional troublemaker (finding and assessing problems). Ask questions not as a means to an end, but to emotionally engage your customer. Ask questions not to simply gather information, but to promote dialogue and deeper inquiry. When you are not a troubleshooter in your strategy of questions, you simply shoot yourself in the foot and cause trouble for yourself. Most sales people ask questions to help themselves make a sale, instead of asking questions to help customers learn more about themselves and their circumstances.

Good questions tap into a different stream of consciousness in the mindset of customers. They are grounded and rooted in the customer's business, instead of the sales person's product and business. As long as you are willing to be your own biggest critic when appropriate, you will avoid falling into the trap of talking hearsay, conjecture and providing circumstantial evidence that invariably diminishes your credibility.

Fret not if your initial foray into asking thought-provoking questions and insightful questions does not yield any problems or sensitive information. Sometimes customers will formulate the answers internally, but will not share with you the answers. The mere act of asking your questions sometimes prompts your customer to positive action, and to afix a positive and favorable review of you. When you ask provocative questions, one of the biggest advantages is you force yourself to intensely listen because you are collecting such valuable and sensitive information.

All sales people want answers. Yet they do not ask the right questions to get the right answers. The reason they often do not get good answers is because their questions are littered with bias in favor of their offering and themselves. Unbiased questions on the other hand honor and empower the customer to draw their own conclusions. Like a good therapist, neutral sales people encourage customers to learn the skills to make it on their own and to find their own answers.

To be a good questioner you have to be like a biographer, but not at the level where you are a nuisance and invade your customer's sense of privacy. The more personal and intrusive your questions, the more detached and disassociated the delivery needs to be. If you are perceived as having an emotional investment in the outcome of the answer, in many cases it will bias the customer's response.

Effective questions seek to minimize the worst-case scenarios, and all the potential negative wild card circumstances that could derail your deals. "Never let your customer get away with lazy answers or wishy-washy responses," says Brian Morton.

You can also ask cleansing questions, or deal breaking questions to preserve your time, resources and dignity, which allows you to get customers to get "realistic" and face the music. Do not be fearful to ask loaded, leading and biased questions when you are getting stalled and jacked around. This is the only time when you can force a customer's hand to give you the answer you already know in your gut, or in your heart of hearts. And realistically in 95% of the cases the answer will be negative. However, bad news early is good news.

"All products and services from the customer's perspective is just a means to an end. The product or solution is not the end in itself. The emotional satisfaction that the product provides, however, is. This is why asking questions is so important," says Kurt Mortensen. Perception is 9/10 of the law in sales. Customers are qualified or disqualified not because of reality, but because of perception. To properly address whether a customer is qualified, you need to ask questions that go below the stated reasons to change and address the underlining emotional components that get to the heart of action and change.

Sales people overdo asking rational, situational questions and logical, fact-finding questions, instead of asking outcome problem oriented, and emotional questions. Also when you believe customers buy logically and rationally you do not need to ask a lot of questions, because you take everything for granted and at face value. They need it, they want it and they like what you have as a solution. What more do you have to ask? Wrong set of instructions. When you believe customers buy emotionally and intuitively you go very deep and ask lots of penetrating and thought-provoking questions, because nothing ever appears as it seems. Variables are always ever present. Customers are spontaneous, flighty, capricious and very difficult to pin down as far as what their true priorities are unless you go deeply below the surface to find their true intentions and convictions.

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