Selling Skills: Using Questioning Techniques to Identify Needs and make more Sales

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein


As we progress with meeting our prospects it’s important to clearly define and understand their needs; exactly what are their issues problems and concerns; and how will our solutions, services or products can help them and ensure a good return on their investment?  What is vitally important to them? W hat makes them tick?  What can we do to hit the ‘hot buttons’ so to speak.

This has always been a crucial element in the traditional sales process but in today’s particularly competitive market where we have uncertainties in our economic climate, resistance to spending (or investing) has increased due to these influencing factors:

  • Procurement processes have changed
  • More people are involved in the process – used to be 2.6 people, it’s now 6.8
  • Confidence in future markets and trading patterns are fickle
  • Budgets are smaller
  • Accountability for spend is higher

We now need to listen to our prospects and identify these needs and allow them to buy from us as we talked about in our Introduction to Sales article.

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Why are Questions So Important?

  • They serve to help identify a prospects’ needs
  • They establish the prospects’ objectives, goals and thought processes
  • They are successful in maintaining a 30%-70% balance in sales discussions
  • They will help you maintain control of the sales meeting
  • They encourage or prompt buying signals
  • They assist in handling and overcoming objections
  • They help in closing the sale

There are various traditional types of questions that have always been used in the sales process.  These questions help sales people in strengthening sales presentations and meeting the needs of their potential customers.

We will look at some of these questions in this article, but it’s important to emphasise that, as we operate in these changed market places, the key is that having built the bonds and created the rapport, we will have engendered trust with these prospects, and that is what will enable them to feel comfortable in buying from you.

Some Basic Types of Questions:

Questioning Techniques: Open

These are questions the prospect cannot answer just with a YES or NO reply.  They prompt more detailed answers therefore giving you more information which, if you listen and notice, will help you to direct the meeting more your way!

Open Questions often begin with the 5 W’s or How?

WHY, WHEN, WHERE, WHAT, WHO AND HOW?

We do need to remember to avoid using a “20 Questions” approach though!  Use them naturally in a conversational manner aiming to create a feeling of your genuine interest in them.

Questioning Techniques: Closed

These questions will add value to a sales meeting if asked at the right time. If the open questions have been asked correctly and listened to, these questions provide confirmation – allowing you to move forwards, so they are typically used in the later stages of a sales meeting.

There isn’t a need to give examples of these questions because they relate directly to a prospects business and can be anything which does require a clearly defined and simple “yes” or “no” response from the prospect.

They confirm any questions and points raised earlier avoiding repetition and do bring the prospect back to the meeting purpose should they digress.

Questioning Techniques: Reflective

As sales meetings progress, here’s some very useful questioning techniques that use the questions to clarify points in the prospects mind. It means changing answers already given, or statements already made by the prospect to lead them into recognising the opportunities and solutions that your offerings will bring!

These types of questions are the ones that will lead to the scenario that the prospect is buying from you; which is great and also can serve as a very useful tool in the process of handling objections too!

  • “So, what you are actually saying is …”
  • “In other words, you feel that if we can overcome …”
  • “If I may be sure and summarise your main goals, could we really say that …”

Questioning Techniques: Directive

A stage further we have some leading questions and, as implied, these questions guide the prospect and subtly bring their patterns of thought around to focussing on you and the solutions you can provide through your proposals. They are also a subtle way of you maintaining control of the meeting.

  • “You mentioned earlier that …”
  • “What is most important to you is …”
  • “The problems you are having …”

In summary there is no strict rule as to the correct sequence of questions in any sales meeting and please do remember it’s important not to overplay the use of them because multiple questions can be confusing to both parties….so plan carefully!!

Selling skills are lessons that need to be taken on board if you truly want to be a successful business – seek out experts who can coach and train you or your team in the selling techniques that will set you apart.

Observations on selling skills from Yorkshire Powerhouse
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