Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell

Salespeople often tell me that their biggest frustration is with the seemingly unnecessary time it takes to close a sale. Some salespeople complain that their prospects are “indecisive,” or that their prospects “lead salespeople on, give all the buying signals, but fail to pull the trigger for months and months.” I have yet to meet a single salesperson that does not want to speed up his/her sales cycle.

Customers today are guarding their cash. They’re slower to react than they used to be. And they expect more of you than ever. In today’s economy, all of the power has returned to the customer—and the customer has become impervious to closing techniques. If you’re still “selling through telling,” and you’re finding that your words are not as persuasive as they used to be—you might want to try using your ears.

I ask salespeople regularly, “What’s the most powerful question in sales?” The common response is, “The most powerful question is when you ask for the sale.” Dead wrong. Asking for the sale is the most avoided question in sales, but it is not the most powerful. Salespeople elude asking for the sale out of fear of rejection, out of what they perceive as being polite, out of wishful thinking, out of negligence, but mostly because they’re unprepared.

Actually, there is no one most powerful question in sales. There are, however, specific characteristics of what makes up the most powerful question for your specific sales situation, or a particular sales call. For example, during one call you may use a question to answer a customer’s question. “When can you deliver?” the customer asks. “When do you require delivery?” the perceptive salesperson responds.

On another call, you may choose to use a powerful question to begin the conversation. “Mr. Prospect, how did you get started in this business?” I have yet to meet a single businessperson who does not like to talk about him/herself. If you can get your prospect talking, you will find all the opportunities you need to uncover buying motives.

Uncovering buying motives is best accomplished by asking powerful questions, which must be prepared in advance to be effective. Here are five tips to help you prepare powerful questions for your next sales call:

1. Questions must be open-ended. Anything that would result in a “yes” or “no” answer leaves you doing most of the talking. The goal is to get the customer talking so you can listen for opportunities.

2. Start with friendly, personal questions. Most salespeople foolishly begin with small talk: “How’s the weather? How about those Yankees? How are the kids?” Save the small talk and ask something that will allow your prospect to connect to something on an emotional level. My mentor always begins with “Where did you grow up?”. Take a moment and think about where you grew up. Where was it? I’ve been there! Remember that great restaurant on Main St…? Got it?

3. Facts and figures often go unheard, but questions require thought. There’s a significant difference between the statement, “83.7% of all business professionals fail to properly save for their children’s college education,” and the question, “What are you doing to ensure your child will be able to attend the college of his/her choice?”

4. There is such a thing as a dumb question. Your elementary school teacher lied to you. Actually, she didn’t lie—she simply forgot to qualify the statement. What she should have said is, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question IN SCHOOL. In real life, however, you will be judged by the questions you ask.”

5. Don’t look to uncover the pain; find the opportunity. Instead of asking questions about problems, pains, or challenges, focus on your prospect’s dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Get your prospects to connect with what life would be like if and when they do business with you. “How would my product help you to achieve your goal? How would our software increase your productivity, your efficiency, your profit? What will you do with the additional cash flow my company will provide?”

Here’s the lesson: Invest your time preparing powerful questions, and your customers will spend their money with you. It all boils down to these four words: Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell.

Now it’s your turn: Share your best questions in the comments below. Or, ask for help developing powerful questions for your specific situation and I’ll be happy to respond.

Sales Blog