How are you? How are you doing? How’s it going? We ask questions all the time. And the next time you’re in front of a potential client should be no different, but knowing which questions to ask may be the making or breaking point of that sale.
Why ask questions?Any experienced salesperson will be able to tell you that no two buyers are the same. What’s more, it’s dangerous to make assumptions. Asking questions can give you the clearest picture of your buyers’ needs and requirements and should influence the way you then go about selling to them.
Picture the scene: You’re in the market for a new tennis racket. The man in the tennis shop is promoting a great racket that is 50% off. However, budget isn’t an issue for you. You just want the best racket. Consequently, you leave without buying because the salesperson hasn’t managed to identify your particular need. In other words, he hasn’t asked the right questions.
Which questions should you ask?Among the myriad of questions that you could ask your potential buyer, six key questions stand head and shoulders above all others and have the key words: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?
1. Who?Unless you know who is going to use your product or service, and who the decision makers are, you are unlikely to have a successful selling experience.
Ensuring that you are in front of the decision maker is the only chance you have of making a sale. Furthermore, knowing who will be using your product or service will mean you can tailor everything you say about your product to that particular audience.
2. What?Most products or services have many features, but you may only have a few minutes with your potential clients so you won’t be able to promote all of them. You need to identify what is most important to your customers in order to demonstrate that your product or service meets their needs.
3. Where?It’s important to find out precisely where your product or service will actually be used. For example, if it is to be solely internal, or even just the US, then that will affect how you make your pitch. Conversely, if it is to have worldwide exposure, you will need to demonstrate that your product is up to the job.
4. When?It's essential to establish exactly when a potential client needs your service. If a client is keen to purchase there and then, then your pitch can be made timely. If the potential client will not be ready to buy until much later, there is little point in pushing hard for an immediate sale. In that case, booking a date for a later appointment will be more beneficial.
5. Why?Understanding why your potential clients require your product or services will give you a valuable insight into their motivations and the value they ascribe to what you are offering. If your product will solve a major problem for them, or enable them to make a great deal of money, you can hold a firmer position when negotiating. If it is of less importance, or many of your competitors can also meet their needs, then you will have to work harder to obtain the deal.
6. How?How often a potential client will use your product or service is also relevant, as is the number of people who will use it. Knowing this helps you to price appropriately. For example, it may be more expensive for you to deliver once every five years than monthly.
Similarly, consider how much volume is being discussed. If your product is used by one person every five years, that is very different from 1,000 people every month. More volume may mean you can charge less per unit.
Of course, each sale is different and you may not need to use all of these questions for every sale, but it is a wise salesperson who knows which questions to ask at any point.
How to ask questionsIt’s understandable that people sometimes feel suspicious or defensive when asked questions, so it’s important to put your potential client at ease. One way of doing this is to use what NLP calls, "framing."
All words carry meanings, both implicit and explicit. Implicit meanings are hugely important when you are attempting to persuade (i.e. sell).
When a manager asked his team, "How can we increase productivity?" he received no response. However, when he asked, "How can we make your jobs easier?" he was inundated with replies. The phrase "increasing productivity" implies that a person works harder to produce more for his/her company, but "making a job easier" implies that the employees themselves will immediately benefit (and, as a result, productivity will increase).
Framing questions by carefully choosing your words will help put your clients at ease and create an atmosphere where they can be honest about what they want and need.
Furthermore, questions put you firmly in control of the situation. You can decide exactly what you would like your potential client to focus on by framing your questions so that this becomes the most likely result.
Asking questions is a vital part of any sales process. Asking specific questions will not only allow you to discover the information you need, but, more importantly, it will enable you to pitch with accuracy. You’ll make that successful sale because you’ll know exactly what your client wants. In the words of Lou Holtz, American football coach, “I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”