If questions deliver answers, what questions deliver sales?

It is well known that questions deliver answers. The real question in sales is: ‘What questions deliver sales results?’

Asking questions and listening are at the heart of any effective selling situation.  Questioning and listening are critical; without them you have salespeople conducting monologues to an audience of bored, disengaged, frustrated customers.

Any self-respecting salesperson couldn’t image not asking questions in a sales situation, yet many well-intentioned salespeople still fail to sell effectively because of poor question choices.


Many salespeople describe themselves as ‘people people’, often entering a sales career filled with good intentions and under the false assumption that selling is about making friends, getting along with people and getting people to like you because when they like you, of course, they will buy from you.  Wrong.

People buy from people they trust and trust supersedes like.  The problem facing many salespeople who adopt the ‘like me and you will buy from me approach’ is that they specialise in ‘social’ questioning, which revolves around their need for affiliation and not much else.

You hear it all the time, salespeople being told that they need to build rapport by asking people about their personal lives, footy teams etc.

This is very old fashioned and not as effective as people think it is. In fact, for many first-time client encounters it can be a real turn off for the client. It often comes across as fake.

You will build more rapport by focusing on what you are really there to do – and that is work with your client’s priorities and address their issues.  Of course it helps to be likeable, but you need to build trust as a priority first and focusing on the client and what they want is the key.

Successful salespeople specialise in ‘opportunity’ questioning. Here they are looking for evidence that opportunities exist for them to work on effectively with others.

They are enquiring, curious and ideas-oriented.  They are also asking questions to validate their clients.  It is their world they are interested in.

It is the salesperson’s job to see how the client’s and the salesperson’s worlds can intersect successfully – where they can find something of mutual value they can both work on for the benefit of both parties – the fair exchange of value, if you will.

In these instances, questions are used to not only assist salespeople with gathering information about the customer, i.e. their needs, situation, issues and priorities but also, when used effectively, assist the customer with coming to a clear understanding and realisation about what they need to do for themselves, hopefully with your assistance.  For instance by practicing ‘opportunity’ questioning the salesperson can:

  • Gain an understanding of the customer’s needs, priorities, issues, perceptions, prejudices, fears, etc.
  • Come to have a deeper understanding of the customer’s buying motivators or intentions.
  • Build genuine rapport and trust with the customer by listening effectively and demonstrating empathy towards their situation. The key is being able to see it from the client’s point of view.
  • Probe deeper into their situation using effective questioning techniques that help the customer to see a greater, tangible need for your product or service.
  • Establish what the consequences and opportunities are for the customer and how working with you will add value to them.

When we don’t ask ‘opportunity’ questions we are at risk of accepting what we are told is true. This can then lead to all sorts of issues such as:

  • Being told something is true when it is not.
  • Making assumptions and being caught out taking the wrong approach.
  • Being misled and losing out as a result.
  • Acting unwisely and causing harm to yourself or others.
  • Giving people what they don’t need.
  • Creating more problems than there were before.

So next time you are out with your salespeople, or, if indeed you are a salesperson yourself, look at your approach to questioning. See what you are doing, what effect your questions are having on your clients and sales results.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert  sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations.  Visit www.barrett.com.au


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