Blog: When Selling, Ask the Right Question

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When asking questions of prospects, it’s important to think ahead. In many instances, sellers worry too much about getting the right answer and not enough about asking the right question. Thinking a few steps ahead can solve a lot of problems before they happen. So the next time you ask a prospect something, ask yourself these questions:

What if the prospect doesn’t understand the question?

What are the numerous ways he or she might answer?

What might your various responses be?

What if he or she doesn’t know the answer?

How will you save him or her from losing face?

A salesperson can dig a deep hole quite quickly if he or she isn’t always thinking several moves ahead. A case in point: I was doing a ride along with a sales coaching client a while back. He was selling financial services and during the meeting, asked his prospect, “Did you see the article in Investment News a few weeks ago?”

The prospect immediately looked puzzled. As an observer, I wondered: Is the prospect familiar with Investment News? Which issue and which article is the seller referring to? If the prospect answers “yes,” how can the seller be sure that he and the prospect are thinking of the same article? If the prospect answers “no,” how can the seller be sure that they are both thinking of the same article?

As is often the case, the problem is not how the prospect might answer — it’s how the question is asked.  It’s better to ask the question this way: “Did you see the article on such-and-such in Investment News a few weeks ago?” This version of the question lends immediate clarity to the query, helps the client from being confused, and makes you be better communicator. Small shift, big results.

Michael Angelo Caruso is president of Edison House, a Michigan-based consulting company. His blog appears regularly on dbusiness.com.

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