Sadly Sales People Would Rather Answer Than Ask Questions
Speak softly and carry a big stick. What is the big stick in selling? It is thought provoking questions. Classic sales people do not probe for the truth or reality because they believe that the sales call is all about the reality of their offering's superiority, not the truth of the customers's circumstances and challenges.
It takes self-control and subjugating one's ego to transition from the main tool of our profession...product information proliferation, to ceding control and asking questions. This is a real challenge for a lot of self-serving sales people. The problem with asking questions beyond superficial data collection is it does not seem like selling, so it is easily dismissed by traditional sellers as too soft and too wishy-washy. Ironically, when you are asking questions it does not seem like selling to the customer. This is the ultimate differentiator, and a huge competitive advantage.
Mainstream sales people use information as a force for personal expression and personality validation. Customer advocates use questions as a force of personal expression and ventilation for their customers. Sadly, classic sales people would rather answer questions than ask questions. They put more stock and importance into their own information than the customer's information.
Most sales people embrace a non-inquiry sales strategy. They flee from the truth, and indirectly encourage customers through their absence of questions to do the same.
When the do ask questions, they are scant, perfunctory and are performed solely for the purpose of inventorying the customer's logical and rational needs, specifications and requirements, and it goes no deeper than that.
Sales people would spend close to 90% of their time asking questions if they came to the correct realization that customers actually buy intuitively, illogically, emotionally and instinctively. And they would frame their questions around not what the customer is seeking, but what they are trying to avoid. This is the ultimate emotional appeal that gets to the heart of what might inspire someone to consider taking action, buying and changing.
Classic sales people do not probe deeply because they do not believe that they are dealing with dubious, questionable and incomplete information that they get from customers. They are too trusting with answers that should not be taken at face value. Their eternal optimism in their selling strategy gets them into trouble when they are listening and evaluating with happy ears. They must find important and sensitive information and navigate and sift thru the maze of misinformation and disinformation.
Sales people who get a reputation for having all the right questions and expertise for their prospects, begin by teasing answers out of their customers and letting them find their own unique expression. Help customers by asking provocative questions that assist them in self-reflection and self-inquiry to find their own answers that they would not find on their own, because they are so close to the forest that they can not see the trees. Like Voltaire said, "You are not judged by your answers, but by your questions.
Conventional sales people will lull customers into a correct answer mode by asking predictable and expected questions that are not thought-provoking. They cherry pick with loaded questions that condition positive answers, and they end up suffering bouts of wishful thinking due to miss information. They treat their customer's motivation and interest as a foregone conclusion, and a mere formality. You can imagine what this does to customer's opinion of sales people being insensitive to their circumstances. This strategy of exerting maximum control over customer's positive viewpoints demonstrates very little trust in customer's independence to do what is best for them, and shows little patience for reality and objectivity on the part of the sales person.
So much of what customers give sales people is laden with questionable commitments, and "fat wording " (multiple meanings)," says Jeff Thull. You cannot be complacent. You must take nothing for granted, or at face value. Failure to do so will result in unending frustration and wasted time.
By nature customers are external optimists, they do not face reality easily, they sandbag sales people, they can be passive aggressive, they do not like to deliver bad news, and they love to keep their options open at the sales person's expense. Most of these characteristics are simply defense mechanisms in response to manipulative sales strategies that sales people have been employing since the beginning of time.
So sales people need to be skeptical inquirers, instead of opportunity hounds. A skeptical Inquirer is always professionally detached and in a heightened state of being incredulous. Sales is a profession where there will always be high levels of ambiguity and missing pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. As soon as you come to terms with that the easier it will be for you to ask fearless, no holds barred questions. "If you do not sweat the small stuff (ambiguity), then the small stuff becomes big bad stuff," says Scott McCain.
Your real value to customers is to ask piercing questions, get insider information and use that knowledge to isolate problems and assess their consequences. "You must be devastatingly honest about what you do not know about the customer's business, but need to know to help them be more profitable," says Mack Hanan. When you sell like a neutral adviser, or business strategist, and have conversations instead of sales speak, "you will increase your chances of achieving privileged access and privileged information," says Jeff Thull.
Conventional sales people are very content in asking predictable and safe questions, so they can get predictable and safe answers. They thrive on security, and fear scrutinizing and scrubbing their customer's answers for contradictions and things that might not be consistent with their customer's priorities and commitments. If you never have awkward conversations, pregnant pauses, get nervous, have things shaken up, know that your path of least resistance will make you more sorry than safe as you get tangled in the web of customer's misdirections, blind alleys and mistruths.
When you ask professional questions that push the envelope and kindly unnerve customers in an empathetic and trusting way to engage them in real constructive dialogue, customers will more often than not see that the effort is worth it for them to have their issues scrutinized. The amount of care, thinking and consideration that you have in your line of questioning, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make all parties involved, will demonstrate to customers that your heart and intent is in the right place.
Sales calls should be used as a golden opportunity to not showcase one's wares, but to showcase one's empathy, business acumen and thought-provoking questions. Otherwise, you will be wedded to the information ball and chain and you will never rise above the disastrous temptation to sell, and show and tell. Effective sales calls are characterized by brainstorming, thinking out loud, pushing the envelope, spontaneous creative thinking, and problem appraising. All these strategies begin and end with the art and science of questioning.