In my last post I explored the reasons why sales people are falling short when it comes to listening to their customers. It’s not just me saying this. It’s one of the biggest complaints made by buyers about sales people. We all know that we’re meant to let the customer do the majority of the talking, but how do we go about it in practice?
The answer is to use questioning. Questioning gives the sales person control over the conversation, whilst allowing the customer to do the majority of the talking. There are 3 main objectives to questioning in customer meetings:
- For the sales person to obtain all of the information they need to be able to identify and create value for their customer and then propose the most favourable solution.
- For the customer to feel that they have been listened to and have had the opportunity to raise any concerns and ask any questions.
- For the sales person to become more knowledgeable about their customer’s business, strengthening their position as a trusted advisor and, critically, providing the chance to uncover additional opportunities.
My first tip then, when it comes to using questioning, is to keep these 3 objectives in mind before any customer meeting. Not only must your customer feel like they’ve been really listened to (which involves not just the act of listening but also the act of demonstrating you’ve listened) but the sales person needs to take full advantage of the opportunity they have of actually being in front of their customer. Let me use an X Factor analogy to help illustrate my point. An aspiring singer might send off demos, post videos of themselves singing on YouTube, try busking on the street, but never is their chance to achieve their goal so great as it is when they’re stood in that audition, with the full attention of the exact people who can help them achieve that goal.
If the sales person’s goals are to win the current deal, identify possible future opportunities and strengthen their relationship with their customer, never will the opportunity be as great as it is when they are sat in front of the customer. Emails might go unread, telephone calls are often restricted by time, but face to face meetings are the perfect chance for the conversation to flow freely, uncovering those precious ‘nuggets’ of information that allow the sales person to create genuine insights for their customer.
My second tip is an obvious and much-cited one but cannot be excluded from a post about questioning tips and that is to use open-ended questions. For example, someone looking to sell a printer will gain far more information from their prospect by saying ‘Tell me about your current printer’, than they will asking ‘Which printer do you have currently?’. The first option is more likely to elicit a response that refers to the efficiency or reliability of the existing printer, giving the sales person opportunity and a natural follow-up. The closed question is likely to put the prospects guard up and leave the sales person battling their way through an awkward and stilted conversation.
Think here about the best chat show hosts; love him or hate him, Graham Norton is very adept at using open-ended questions to encourage his guests to open up and tell the stories that we, the audience, love to hear. I often use a phrase when delivering training: “we don’t know what we don’t know” and what I mean by this is that we cannot possibly begin to guess at the information our customer’s hold which might be relevant to the current, or future, opportunities. It is only through conversation, stimulated by insightful open-ended questions, that we can become party to this critical information.
My third tip is not to rush. A really common characteristic in sales people is to ask several questions all at once. Because the customer is unlikely to work their way through each of the questions, one at a time, what typically happens is that the sales person ends up with the answer to just one of their questions. If all of the questions are important, ask one at a time and give your customer chance to respond. If your customer does not respond instantly, don’t try and fill the silence by asking another question or, worse still, attempting to guess the answer for them. Give them time to consider their response. Many sales people find this ‘silence’ difficult, if so, a good tip is to try counting to ten in your head to allow time for a response.
This considered approach will also allow the sales person to look for non-verbal clues. A change in someone’s stance, tone or expression can indicate a lot and help the sales person to uncover what might otherwise go unsaid.
For more tips on questioning, take a look at my blog ‘Using the GRID Structure to Improve Questioning Skills’, or give us a call on 01778 382733 to find out how we could help you and your sales team improve questioning skills.