The Asking of the Question is the Answer
The most powerful natural instinct in sales is knowing when someone is going to buy or change. The second most powerful instinct (learned) in sales is when you do not have the first and use the second—asking questions. Too many sales people over rely on the first instinct (which they do not have often), because the instinct of asking questions is burdensome and does not give them a reassuring sense of being in control and in charge.
Most sales people are savvy enough to know that half the time they spend on prospective customers is a waste of time. The problem is they do not know which half is a good use of their time. This is a function of a poor or nonexistent sales process utilizing provocative questions.
Selling is not a "doing process," but a "letting be done process." Authentic selling does not originate from the sales person, but rather from the customer. Sales people are simply a conduit or facilitator. This is why the act of questioning and listening is so important.
The beauty of thought-provoking questions is they ask nothing in return. How ironic! The asking of the question is the "answer," is the apex of effective and productive selling.
Sales people too often stop asking good questions because they hate hearing the wrong answers. It is the classic ostrich syndrome. So long as they are in the dark they do not have to face reality.
When asking questions becomes too inconvenient and time-consuming, sales people build elaborate presentations and do over the top dog and pony shows and show and tells. Unfortunately, selling by its very nature so often produces the exact opposite effect. The ironic thing is when you ask good questions, customers really start to understand you and better understand what you are selling.
Socrates concluded that knowledge consisted in knowing one's ignorance and to be the definition of an educated person. Sales people fault in not being ignorant enough. Because they believe in advance that they know pretty much all they need to know about their customer, they do not ask enough questions. Remember, when you get really good at asking questions you do it more for the benefit of your customer than for yourself. You ask questions that customers are more concerned about answering than you are in hearing the answer.
Ask questions as if you had nothing to lose. This can be very unexpected and refreshing for your customer. The more you demonstrate your non-bias, neutrality and lack of self-interest in your line of inquiry, the more you encourage trust and openness. Customers will tend to give you more truthful answers if you ask them more truthful questions.
Ask question that the customer is afraid to ask of themselves. Questions that have the potential to weaken the sales person's selling position or negotiating position will be viewed as risk-free on the part of your customer. "Sales people who fear the truth or bad news are really asking questions as if they are saying; please spare my feelings by telling me what I want to hear," says Tom Freese. Only sales people who are truly empowered can empower their customers. Asking balanced and neutral questions allow your customers to drop their guards and be more truthful and forthcoming.
Good questions appeal to the customer's imagination, expands the customer's worldview, quietly indicts, encourages participation, pushes emotional buttons, are not always easily answered, seek out deficiencies and weaknesses and provide much needed context and balance. "Effective questions penetrate the customer's mind and thinking much more so than effective selling. A good question helps focus and shape the direction in which your customer's mind works. There is something in human beings that makes it impossible not to think of the answer when we are asked a good question," says David Kale.
Unlike asking questions, giving out unsolicited information always runs the risk of being perceived as manipulative, self-serving and controlling. Helping customers articulate their own questions and helping them search for their own guidance is very powerful. The beauty of asking a lot of questions is you are not saddled with a heavy burden of proof.
When you ask customers thought-provoking questions you give them free reign to really sell themselves. As we all know, customers generally are the best sales person at the selling event.