Prospects and customers have two frequent complaints about salespeople. The first, they talk too much. The second, they don’t listen very well. Many salespeople agree they need to be better listeners. Some, in fact, are learning to become active listeners. Becoming an active listener, however, doesn’t ensure that you will improve the results of your selling efforts. The information you are now actively gathering must be sufficient and appropriate for you to qualify or disqualify your prospect and, if necessary, put together the correct presentation.
In order to hear the right information, you must stop prematurely giving out information and instead, ask questions. And, you must ask the right questions – ones that allow you to get an accurate picture of your prospect’s need, wants and situation.
You must be able to determine exactly what your prospect is trying to achieve. You must also determine why they are trying to achieve it. Specifically, why? What has kept them from that achievement so far? What potential roadblocks lie ahead? What are the benefits of succeeding in their goal? What are the consequences of failing? How would success or failure affect them?
Asking questions to uncover this information accomplishes two things. It allows you to better assess the situation and determine if there is a real opportunity for you. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it gives the prospect an opportunity to crystallize and clarify his or her thinking.
Prospects often think they have a clear picture of a solution until they are asked to pick the problem apart and examine it in greater depth. Your questions must facilitate that process.
You must keep “picking away” at the problem with your questions until the real source of the problem is revealed. Questions and responses such as: “Why is that?” “How so?” “And….?” “Like…?” “What else?” and “Another view might be…?” should be part of your questioning arsenal. Remember, your objective is to keep the prospect talking. If they are talking, you won’t be.
Using the newspaper story approach – who, what, where, why, when and how – to pick apart the problem may be helpful:
- Who is experiencing the problem? Who else? Who is affected by it?
- What specifically is the problem? What are the underlying causes? What did you do? What else do you want to add? What happens if you don’t solve the problem?
- Where in the selling process does the problem occur? Where in the organization?
- Why specifically does the problem exist?
- When did the problem first become evident? When did you first decide to do something about it?
- How will you deal with the problem now? How long before you give up?