During a coaching session this week, I discussed the value of questioning techniques, and this is a précis of my advice …..
They say that “information is power” and nowhere is this more true, than in the first buyer-seller interactions.
Many inexperienced sales professionals – well actually, many experienced ones too – are not comfortable at the “qualification stage” of the sales cycle. This is a major issue, because it is in fact the most important stage of the cycle, and it is precisely why sales pipelines become padded out with opportunities that are either not winnable, or even non-existent.
There is a questioning technique, or rather a structure to use the technique within, called the funnel technique, (not to be confused with the Sales Funnel) which keeps you on track as you guide your prospect toward your service or product offering once you have uncovered their needs.
The technique relies on you using the prospect’s own words back to him or her, and you must take notes. You will need to remember what the prospect says both now and possibly well into the future, so do not rely on your memory.
There are four steps to the technique, but that does not necessarily mean that it will always be only four questions:
1. Motivate; clarify why you are asking the questions
2. Open neutral questions, to get non-specific, unbiased information
3. Open leading questions, to get specific, biased information
4. Summarize and gain commitment with closed questions
The first step is to motivate your potential customer. You are going to need to ask a lot of questions, so you want to prepare them for it. The best way to do this is with motivation, not justification. You might consider using something they said to provide some positive stroking.
For example, you might make reference to the size of their company or department. They will be on the edge of their chair waiting to tell you about it in more depth! Be careful not to sound too patronizing, but top salespeople are genuinely interested to learn as much as they can about their clients or prospect’s business and are very good at creating rapport.
Now you can begin to probe for information, pegs to hang the sale on and hot buttons. You want to find
out as much as possible without leading or influencing the prospect. You want to encourage them to talk. You could ask them, for instance, how their company was structured or what the partnership does. Never use closed questions or be too specific at this stage.
At the second stage you will more likely than not get several pieces of valuable information. You must take notes, because you may want to go through the funnel with each piece of information, maybe several times.
Once you have started to gather information and have uncovered the hot buttons, use open, leading questions to pinpoint specific areas that you want to explore, exploit or lead the prospect into. Again, during Step 3, do not use closed questions.
Now you summarize using the prospect’s own words and information, so as to get their commitment of your understanding of the situation or their needs. You then wait for the commitment, and go back to step one.
A Powerful Selling Tool
Questioning using the funnel technique is one of the most powerful selling tools available to you. The key to its success is to practice using it. First of all, work on your open questions, and then start to consciously differentiate between open neutral and open leading questions.
So you see, information does increase our power!