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The Greatest Sales Tool: Questions

When it comes to sales, questions are one of the greatest tools you have. The real Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, knows the importance of questions in the sales process. In an interview with Piers Morgan asks Jordan to sell him a pen. Jordan Belfort responds by asking, "How long have you been in the market for a pen? What type of pens do you typically use when you use a pen?" He goes on to say, "you should be asking questions to qualify the prospect."

Too many salespeople do not leverage questions enough, and questions can solve a myriad of problems. As you look at the HubSpot list below, you will notice that questions can solve most of these problems. For example, questions enable you to listen to buyer's needs. Additionally, questions demonstrate you are not pushy and desire to learn. If you keep going down the list, you can see the importance of questions.

In essence, sales are solving problems. Questions enable you to identify how you can solve a buyer's problems. In this article, we will help you harness the power of questions in your sales strategy. We will start with two question pitfalls and finish with two essential question types to have in your sales toolkit.

Pitfall #1 Asking Cliche Questions. Example question #1, "what keeps you up at night," was a great question in the 1980s when nobody asked it. Now that everybody asks this question, it is predictable, forgettable, and for some, irritating. Example question #2, "are you the decision-maker?" This can be downright insulting because you question whether the person in front of you is even worth your time. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence others. At a networking event, when people ask, example question #3, "what do you do? Example question #4 "where are you from?", what is your reaction to these two questions? Snore! Mix it up and ask instead, "what was your bonus last year?" I am sarcastic, but you can see how a cliche question will put someone to sleep, and a non-cliche question will wake someone up.

Tip: Re-phrase your cliche questions so they feel fresh, and you don't come across lazy.

Pitfall #2 Asking a Long Question.

Imagine if you had just given a presentation on oil and I said:

"The price of oil is all over the place. Brent crude has diverged from West Texas, and the divergence is at all-time highs. Additionally, there has been instability due to the announcements made by Russia, Saudia Arabia, and other oil producers. I am curious, what are your thoughts on the future of oil volatility?"

On the other hand, what if I asked:

"What are your thoughts on oil volatility?"

What is the difference between these two questions? The longer question is about me, and the shorter question is about you. The longer question shows my need to look smart, and the more succinct question shows my desire to learn from you.

Tip: Make your questions succinct.

Next, two types of questions to add to your repertoire.

Essential Question #1 The Pathway Question. The pathway question will identify a way forward. Here are some examples of pathway questions.

  • What would be the most valuable items to focus on today? This identifies a pathway of where to spend time.

  • What challenges have you had with partners that we should keep top of mind? This identifies a pathway of traps that could destroy the relationship.

  • What does your ideal and realistic solution look like? This identifies the pathway to solving their problem.

  • What would you see from us that would make you want to refer us a year from now? This provides a pathway for how you can get a referral and provide amazing service.

  • What is the best way to follow up, keep you up to date, and stay in touch? This provides a pathway for following up and being persistent.

Essential Question #2 The Courageous Question. Unfortunately, in sales, you face a lot of gridlock. People don't respond, people delay decisions, and people hesitate from moving forward. One of the best strategies to unlock gridlock is to ask a courageous question. I define a courageous question as a question you would ask if you had nothing to lose, where you don't worry about the relationship, or losing your job.

On a scale of 1/10, this would be the 10/10 for conflict. I want you to start with a ten because it frees you from the burden of worry and opens you up to possibility, and it can be kind of funny. Remember, you can always soften your question. Let's imagine we have a client who is stalling on the decision process. For fun, I will start with a 15 and then soften the question down to a 1.

15: What is your problem? Why do you keep dragging this decision out- I have kids to feed and sales targets to meet!

10: What is going on? Why haven't you made a decision yet?

7: What is slowing down the decision process?

5: What is impacting the decision process?

3: What else can I provide that will be helpful as you continue the evaluation process?

1: How is it all going?

After I go through this exercise, I can determine which is most appropriate for my client, such as a 3, 5, or 7. Remember, sometimes a question with a little edge, not too much, can eliminate gridlock.

Questioning is one of the essential tools you have as a salesperson so take a moment to re-imagine your cliche and long questions or add pathway and courageous questions to your toolkit. Thanks all!

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