As you can see from this list, I'm not suggesting that you need to ask more questions, but better questions. In fact, you will be asking your prospective customers fewer questions and getting more information of a higher quality. These techniques will get buyers talking about what's important to them instead of what's important to you. They will prompt the buyer to think more deeply about what he wants instead of focusing on surface-level issues such as price, features, and delivery. Equally important, they will allow you to set yourself apart from other salespeople in your field and create more meaningful, deeper relationships. Once you have finished reading this book, you will have acquired all the skills you need to craft a new set of questions, tailored to your industry and guaranteed to earn the rapport and respect of many more customers.
With all of the question types we'll be discussing, keep in mind that there's no magic formula that will unlock a sale. Your questions need to be tailored to the situation. One prospect may respond enthusiastically to one line of questioning but resist engaging with different types of questions. Some approaches will work better with decisionmakers, others with gatekeepers or administrators. Nor can you assume that, say, an engineer will be turned off by questions that get at their feelings or frustrations, or that a social worker won't care about return on investment. We hope to present you with more tools in your arsenal, so that you can try different approaches and see which ones fit.
In addition, keep in mind that you don't want your questions to come across as canned or formulaic. Prospects will be reluctant to open up to you if they sense that you're just checking off boxes on the way to the sale. Use these questions to create genuine 'conversations' with buyers, not just to dress up your sales pitch.
Are You a Partner or a Product Peddler?
The Educational Question
ONE OF THE first hurdles you face with buyers is establishing yourself as someone who can add value—not just because of what you sell, but also by virtue of who you are. High-value salespeople successfully position themselves as experts or advisers who use their expertise to improve the lives of their prospective customers.
Most salespeople sincerely want to help prospective customers by improving their business, saving them money, and expanding their share of the market.
But many prospects are cynical—and rightly so. We've all encountered too many low-value product peddlers who think their job is to show what they've got, say what it does, and ask for money.
You must work quickly to set yourself apart from that crowd, and one of the best ways is with the educational question.
Let's see how asking educational questions can help establish a high-value sales relationship. I'll use the example of a pharmaceutical sales rep because that's an especially difficult relationship to establish. Physicians are busy and their time is expensive. Moreover, they're experts in their own right and skeptical that a mere drug rep can match their own knowledge, much less tell them something they don't already know. And since reps can no longer resort to the kinds of perks and goodies that used to get them in the door, what can they do to add value? As you'll see, a well-thought question can help deliver that value, by leveraging the doctor's own expertise.
Rep: Doctor, I recently read an article on the American Academy of Pediatrics website that reported on a counseling program in Baltimore for obese children and their families. One of the biggest challenges they face is overcoming parents' denial about their children's weight issues and poor eating habits and tending to shrug off warnings from their pediatrician. I'm curious how your experience compares with that.
Doctor: Sure, we encounter that problem every week. Some families are totally out of touch when it comes to healthful eating. I just met with a mother and father who were so proud because they'd cut down their weekly fast-food meals from five to four! It's unbelievable how many children we're seeing these days with diabetes and hypertension.
What did this question do? The rep didn't tout her own expertise on childhood obesity. But the educational question positioned her in the role of consultant—someone who knows what is going on in the marketplace and in the research centers.
When asking an educational question, you not only engage the prospective customer in talk about controversial issues but also present yourself as someone with fresh information, rather than simply trying to sell your product.
The educational question is easy to compose because it requires only that you keep up with the latest news in your industry, as well as other trends or issues affecting a prospect's business—which you probably do already.
The goal in using the educational question is to engage your prospective customers by sharing information that's relevant to their problems. The key is to make the prospective client feel understood, and most of all understood by you. These questions are not meant to be used manipulatively; rather, they are intended to stimulate a prospect's thinking and encourage exploration of options. Once you have started a prospect thinking about different possibilities and new ways of doing business, your product will almost inevitably be seen as a solution.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.