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The Socratic Method of Selling is Where Questions are the Answers

Developed by Socrates in the 4th Century BC, the Socratic method of learning is a method where teachers ask students questions that are very thought-provoking that engage and challenge the student to critically analyze the subject being taught. This inquiry-based teaching method has been popularized in law schools and can be applied very effectively in the world of sales.

If Socrates were a sales person (did they have sales people back then?), he would have always been over quota, always placing number one in the presidents club and being on the cutting edge of sales strategies and tactics.

Socrates challenged pupils to think for themselves. He empowered pupils to see their own truths and draw their own conclusions independent of his agenda. By asking thought-provoking questions he was able to tease out answers that challenged his pupils to look deeply within themselves and create more convictions in their own findings and beliefs.

The Socratic method of selling is not however for the "faint of heart." It requires a dramatic mind shift to execute. It requires the sales person to temporarily subordinate their ego, suspend their need to be right and be center stage, put aside their self-interest, embrace curiosity, have a long-term perspective and give up their sense of false control.

If you have ever seen the gut wrenching despair a crack addict goes through to give up their addiction, multiply it by spades the gut wrenching despair a traditional sales person goes through when they transcend their ego and suspend control. It is not easy!

However, the rewards and spoils are unmatchable; less stress, less wasted time, stronger trust and relationships, greater insight and understanding, and more profitable business.

This selfless line of inquiry will challenge your customer's deeply held beliefs and convictions, so be professional and demonstrate humility when executing.

The following are examples of the Socratic method of questioning.

Probing of assumptions: Make your customers question their presumptions on which they are resting their assumptions.

  • What else could we assume?
  • How did you choose those conclusions?
  • Please explain why/how..?
  • How can you verify that assumption?
  • What would happen if..?
  • Do you agree or disagree with...?
  • Probing Rationale: When your customer gives you a rationale, do not assume anything and probe deeply for causes.

  • Why is this happening?
  • How do you know this?
  • Show me...?
  • Are these reasons good enough?
  • Can you substantiate this?
  • Questioning viewpoints and perspectives: Most viewpoints of customers are held because of a particular position. Challenge the positions but not the person. Demonstrate that there are other, equally valid viewpoints through the quality of your questions.

  • Another way to look at this is...
  • What other ways are there to look at this?
  • Who benefits from this?
  • If you believe that, then you must believe...
  • How are...and...similar?
  • Questioning implications and consequences:

  • How does that impact..?
  • Then what would happen?
  • How could...be used to...?
  • How does this fit into what you have learned before?
  • The Socratic method of teaching is the same as the Socratic method of selling. Both allow the recipient to self-discover their own answers through a process of selfless questions. This method of inquiry is so effective because it is so engaging and really challenges recipients to extend trust and faith that the truth is the ultimate goal for both parties. It also works very well, because it is very apparent, due to the quality of the questions that the sales person is not selling from a position of "looking out for number one."

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