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Question from the Hip Do Not Shoot from the Lip

Traditional sales is built on the premise that customers have to be convinced to listen to you. Whereas strategic selling is built on the premise that customers have to be first convinced of the value of answering your questions.

Conventional sales people rarely feel the weight of their ignorance because they are filled with too much product information that gives them a false sense of security. True knowledge lies with customers, and questions are the tools of the trade to understand their unique circumstances.

You gain more "street cred" from your probing questions than your lofty answers. Your job is to get "intel" not to give it. Conventional sales people believe that a customer's undivided attention is their do.

Seek first to be interested (thought-provoking questions), before being interesting (giving mundane solutions). Conventional sales people do the inverse and only get conventional results.

Mainstream sales people do not ask questions because they lack emotional intelligence, empathy and have an overabundance of self-orientation. They find the process less than exciting, clinical and tedious because it is not about their favorite topic; me, myself and I, or product, solution, company.

I have seen surveys from The Brooks Group that report 40% of customers complain that sales people do not listen to them. Furthermore, 60% of those customers would be favorably predisposed to consider buying from sales people if they simply demonstrated through listening that they understood their needs and wants. Failure to listen is a symptom of sales people failing to ask thought-provoking questions.

"There are no second acts in American lives," said F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nowhere is this more evident than in the information economy. Sales people have one real chance, one small window of opportunity to make a favorable first impression with customers. So do not squander it with leading with your mundane information.

Customers can easily get information anywhere. What they need is less answers and more piercing questions. You will create more value by getting customers to think differently about their business problems than your advice on what courses of action they should take to resolve those issues. Therefore, selling is more of a profession of diagnosing than it is of advising.

Sales people and customers are both looking for answers in all the wrong places. Both want easy answers to things that are not easy. When you ask tough questions you condition your customer to look for hard answers. What is the answer? What is the question?

Good questions prompt more questions. They also evoke deep emotions and instincts. Poorly thought out questions engage customers solely on a rational basis. Where customers need the most insight is on an emotional level since this is the driving force behind action.

On average 70% of your questions should have an emotional appeal. Bear in mind though, a fair amount of customers are emotionally unavailable. If they are not willing to be engaged in answering questions and having an adult to adult conversation, then the sales person's value has been severely marginalized.

Good questions exhibit all possibilities. They leave customers more curious. They are not sugarcoated and they do not put words into their customer's mouth. They empower customers, instead of assisting sales people to meet their own needs. Good questions are not rhetorical and they do not back customers into a corner where they are left giving only one answer.

Mainstream sales people ask too many auspicious, opportunistic and hopeful questions that dig exclusively for promising outcomes. Ask questions you intuitively know the customer is pondering, but is reluctant to vocalize. Make it abundantly clear with your tonality and posture that you are open to receiving news that will potentially negatively impact your selling agenda. Do not ask questions that are relevant only to you and the results you want. Customers will see right through your superficial strategy and they will make you pay for it. A good rule of thumb is to ask questions that customers are more interested in answering, than you are interested in hearing the answers to.

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