ITB 2024 Special Reporting
Sales Success And The "Art Of The Question" --- Eight Key Rules
By Dr. Rick Johnson
Saturday, 9th February 2008
Any successful sales strategy starts with the ability to understand the "Art of the Question".  It is imperative that you understand the customer's needs and find their pain. That not only means asking lots of questions but it means asking the right kind of questions and then listening very carefully. If you become skilled at the "Art of Questioning", you will be amazed at the information you can uncover.

Key Rules for the "Art of the Question"

Rule #1. Gain information. Don't assume anything when you are building relationship equity with a customer. Ask question after question until you completely understand your customer. The real value is not in the answer but in the ability to ask the right questions.

Rule #2. Check your relationship status and customer interest.  Ask questions that uncover the customer's attention level. Determine if they understand your value propositions. For example, ask whether they agree that your business relationship can help them increase profitability.
Rule #3. Determine buyer makeup. Ask questions to find out where the buyer is "coming from," if he is experienced, knows exactly what his needs are and understands how your products can be beneficial.

Rule #4. Encourage interaction so you can listen more. When you ask questions, you encourage the buyer to talk. This makes the buyer like you better-and helps you learn more about them personally and about their business. It's especially helpful to get the buyer to talk when you realize you have said something they didn't agree with or understand.

Rule #5. Share information. Sometimes you may want to provide information that will help your customer understand your products, your company and the value you provide. For example, you could ask, "Did you know that our product line is rated number one by Purchasing Magazine?"

Rule #6. Ask what they think.  Questions that ask for someone's opinion not only provide knowledge, but also indicate that you are interested in what that person has to say. For example, ask, "If you could make a preseason buy with X terms, how much impact would that have on your growth and net profit.

Rule #7. Staying Focused.  Key questions asked when the conversation seems to wander can get you back on track toward meeting your goals. Asking personal questions about a prospect to find a starting point is fine, but eventually you need to discuss the real reasons for meeting. Asking questions like "Can we get back to that issue you mentioned regarding your service problems? This will refocus attention on the important issues.

Rule #8. It's not about you. Simply put, questions that make the customer feel important go a long way to strengthening your relationship. If the customer has mentioned any type of difficulty such as shortages, personnel issues or product quality issues from other suppliers don't start puking all over them with a sales pitch. Ask them if they are having a rough day, a rough week. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. I once asked a customer what it would take to do business with him and he told me I needed to give him the product free. That led to further discussion and a consignment program that turned him into our largest account.

Questions can be Powerful

Asking the right question at the right time can be very powerful. Timing of questions and the types of questions are directly proportional to your relationship with the customer. Initial questions should all focus on developing your relationship equity with the customer. One of my very first mentors once said to me;

"Rick, if you call on a customer and talk for forty-five minutes telling him all about your products, your company and preach about features and benefits and he talks for fifteen minutes, when you leave he probably isn't going to think you are a very good sales person no matter how good your presentation was. On the other hand, if you talk to him for fifteen minutes asking the right questions about his problems, his company, his goals and even his personal beliefs and family and you let him talk for forty-five minute, chances are he is going to think you are one of the best salesmen that ever called on him. How can he not think that when you just spent forty-five minutes listening to him tell you about his issues, his challenges, his problems, his company and even his family?"

Choose Your Questions Wisely

Do you remember some of your basic sales training when it comes to the types of questions to ask? As you recall, there are two basic types of questions. They are closed end questions and open end questions. The individual situation and type of information you are trying to get often dictates which type of question to use. However, during the initial relationship process, open ended questions should dominate.

Closed Ended Questions

Closed ended are restrictive questions that can be answered very quickly with a simple yes or no or a very limited response. This type of question is useful for obtaining a specific bit of information, data or validation. They are often used in the closing process as well. Examples include questions like:

Do you want me to order six or eight widgets for delivery next Tuesday?

Do you prefer our next appointment to be on Monday or Thursday?

Open Ended Questions

Open-ended questions do not lead the customer and they do not require a simple answer. Open ended questions seek to gain a better understanding of the customer by getting them to reveal much more about their objectives, needs, current situation and personality profile. Examples include questions like:

Can you explain to me exactly how your business generates new accounts?

How do you determine which business segments are going to get priority on resource allocations?

Can you tell me about the last time you missed productivity targets and how you got things back on track
It's a Cake Walk

These are simple rules about a simple concept and yet it is amazing how many sales people, even experienced sales people forget to apply them. Sales is not easy especially when the economy is struggling. So ….. print these eight simple rules out and have your sales force keep them close at hand. Maybe just this little reminder may make a difference during these tough times when they are out trying to increase sales and gain market share.

Check out Rick's new CD series and workbook "Unlocking the Secrets to Amazing Sales" @ http://www.ceostrategist.com/resources-store/unlocking-the-secrets-to-amazing-sales-incredible-profits.html  It is a must addition for your sales training initiatives. Order today and get a bonus copy of Rick's book "Turning Lone Wolves into Lead Wolves ----56 ideas to maximize sales.

www.ceostrategist.com  – Sign up to receive "The Howl" a free monthly newsletter that addresses real world industry issues and receive complimentary copies of the "Lead Wolf Interview Guide & "Sales Training 101". Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that has helped hundreds of clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail rick@ceostrategist.com .  Don't forget to check out the Lead Wolf Series that can help you put more profit into your business.
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