When I was in eighth grade, I was tasked with a science project. While other kids chose subjects like photo-electric cells that ran model cars, my dad convinced me to create a display showcasing the 5 simplest tools known to mankind. The wedge, the wheel, the incline plane, the pulley, and the lever: those were my subjects. My dad was a simple guy. On a side note, my dad used to call one of my older brothers “the wedge” and I eventually came to realize the connection. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. Questions are absolutely the simplest tool known to sales.
Questions are much like the lever. They give you the leverage to uncover huge amounts of information and move deals forward. Asked in an artful, constructive way, questions engage buyers, show your understanding, convey knowledge, and expose the critical information you need to move opportunities forward. Questions are not only the simplest tool known to sales, but also the most powerful.
So let’s take a quick look at how to leverage this powerful sales tool called “the question.” And some pitfalls we need to avoid.
First, there are stupid questions. Don’t ask them. They’ll kill you in sales.
“So… what does you company do?”
“What does your company make?”
“Where are you located?”
If you don’t know the answer, okay, but don’t ask these types of questions. They just work against you in B2B sales. If you haven’t researched your buyers on the Web, then don’t expose that. Buyers expect you to do your homework and know something about them.
Ask good open ended questions, not bad ones.
Bad: “So, what keeps you up at night?” [Really bad]
Bad: “Could you describe any challenges you’re having with sales and marketing.”
Good: “We help companies trying to get marketing and sales working together to improve sales execution. Could you help me understand any challenges you have in this area?” [Much better]
Framing the question is the key. See the difference?
Drill down, drill down, drill down.
Drill down questions expose your knowledge and expertise. They uncover the details you need to know in order to really help and provide guidance to the buying team.
“Could you tell more about the challenges you hear from sales regarding the content that marketing is providing?” [Good]
“Would you mind talking more about your team’s ability to know what content is available, and what content is being used? [Good]”
“We’ve found, across the industry, average sales team usage of marketing materials is about 25-30%. Can you tell me how you feel your team is doing on getting sales to use marketing content?” [Good]
Avoid annoying tendencies
Try to stay away from annoying habits and tendencies that turn buyers off. Here are some of my favorites--really bad practices that I see sales reps doing way too often.
Sounding scripted or rehearsed. When buyers even get a hint that you’re a stuffed shirt mannequin reading from a list of questions, they check out. They may finish the call, but that’s it. If you have to refer to a script, you haven’t studied the questions enough. Do your homework and come prepared—ready to ask questions without sounding scripted.
Asking questions that were just answered. This can be a killer. This shows the seller isn’t really listening, but instead, is probably thinking about the next question he wants to ask. Listen intently and get into the flow of the dialogue. Stay present at all times. Ask good drill down questions after the buyer’s response to show you understand and uncover the details you’ll need to know.
Abrupt changes in dialogue direction. Let’s say a buyer just gave a thoughtful response to a fairly open ended question. Instead of asking a related drill down question, the seller changes direction and asks another unrelated open ended question with no smooth transition. Again, this wreaks of zombie-like scripted behavior, and it turns buyers completely off. Let the conversation flow naturally—no hairpin turns.
Questions are, without a doubt, the simplest and most powerful tool in a sales rep’s arsenal. Practicing in role play scenarios with real people is by far the best way to improve. If you study and perfect the art of good questioning, I can almost guarantee your sales productivity will rise—a lot.
Some great books that cover using questions in B2B selling: