What’s your Question? 5 Tips for Strategic Sales Questions

Sales Questions, Open-ended questions, closed-ended questionsGood questions are a critical part of the face-to-face sales process.

Ask the right questions and you pave the way to achieving these important sales presentation outcomes:

  • Generating rapport and relationship building discussions
  • Uncovering information that will help you communicate with your prospect
  • Check that you have the right information or understanding of key elements
  • Taking a level of control during the sales process
  • Gaining commitment
  • Respecting your prospect by not wasting their time with the wrong questions

2 Very Different Types of Questions

To achieve the above sales experts use two very different types of questions, namely:

  • Open-ended Questions
  • Closed-ended Questions

Many of you will have heard of these two main types of questions that are routinely used in sales presentations.

Often when you go to the circus, gymnastics demonstrations or to see magic acts we are warned ‘Not’ to try the acts we see in our own homes.  This is often in case we hurt ourselves or even offend others who may be watching (Particularly with poorly performed gymnastics demonstrations such as the beam – ouch!).

In the case of Strategic Questions it is different.  Although we will be discussing the exact same questions used by ‘experts’ I do recommend that you try these in your own home or office.

Please do try these in your own Home or Office

But first, let’s make sure you have developed some useful strategic sales questions and that you know how and when to use them.

Open-ended Questions

Firstly, let’s understand Open-ended Questions in the context of the face-to-face or telephone selling process.

The general idea is that Open-ended Questions are questions that are difficult to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or a simple one word answer.  Open-ended Questions often start with one of ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Why’, ‘Where’ or ‘How’ and generally require at least a short answer to do justice to the question.

Open-Ended Questions are great for:

  • Ice-Breakers and general rapport and relationship building discussions.

For example, “What did you do on the weekend/on your recent holiday etc.?” (This question is intended to open up conversation and generate rapport)

  • Uncovering your prospects problems, hidden needs and other information that will help you communicate with your prospect and highlight that you offer a great solution for their needs.

For example, “What area of Marketing and Sales has been most challenging for your team over the past twelve months?” (This question is designed to encourage the prospect to talk about their needs and problems)

  • Respecting your prospect by not wasting their time with the wrong questions.

By asking logical and well considered open-ended questions it will become obvious to your prospect that you care about providing a solution for their needs.  In addition, it will make you appear to be more commercially astute and efficient than someone who simply rambles on.

Open-ended Questions are particularly useful during the early stages of a sales presentation.

The early stages of the sales presentation is when you are striving to build rapport and uncover information that will help you present a solution for your prospects needs.

Closed-ended Questions

Closed-ended Questions are essentially the opposite to Open-ended Questions. Closed-ended Questions are designed to be answered in a single word or short answer. Closed-ended Questions are great for:

  • Checking that you have the right information or understanding of key elements.

For example, “What Content Management System is your website based on?” (This question is intended to give you a clear answer such as ‘WordPress’ which will then enable you to focus on your prospects specific needs).

  • Taking a level of control during the sales process.

For example, “So it is the social media side of your marketing process that you find the most challenging?” (This questions is intended to make sure you understand your prospects needs and in particular where their interest lie so that you can focus on those areas)

  • Clarifying objections that have been raised to make sure you actually understand the objection being raised before heading off on a tangent and addressing the wrong objection.

For example, “So what you are saying is that you don’t doubt our capabilities in the area of online advertising it is just that you feel you need help with the social media side of things first?” (This question is intended to clarify that it is not expertise that is the reason for their lack of interest in online advertising but that it is more about their own specific needs)

  • Again, respecting your prospect by not wasting their time with the wrong questions.

By using Closed-ended Questions to confirm or eliminate interest/relevance and to clarify facts to avoid wasting your prospect’s time on repetition or the wrong topics.

  • One of the most useful Closed-ended Questions in Sales is of course asking for the order or gaining commitment.

For example, “Would you like to proceed with this project?” (Closed-ended Question designed to close the sale and gain commitment)

Not all Questions were Created Equal

In face-to-face and telephone selling there are questions that can be referred to as ‘Strategic Questions’.  They are also often referred to as ‘High-Gain Questions’ or ‘Power Questions’.

Strategic Questions are simply questions that have been well considered and thought through and have been proved to be helpful in progressing your personal selling process.

Your Strategic Questions should be comprised of a combination of proven Open and Closed-ended Questions so that you have them at your disposal during all stages of the sales process.

It is also a great idea if you can practice the use of your Strategic Questions through role-playing amongst your team.  Role-playing Strategic Questions and other sales scenarios can make for engaging and entertaining staff training sessions.

[Photo by Micky Aldridge via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons]




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