10 Questions Professional Sales Teams Ask

In this article we’re focusing on how sales managers can help salespeople harness the power of questions to make the sale. It’s really what professional selling is all about.

As an organization that trains thousands of salespeople every year, we’ve observed that salespeople talk their way out of more sales than they listen their way into. We often refer to this as “jawbone” selling. Those who subscribe to this practice probably lose many sales that they could make – simply by talking less and listening more.

If you suspect you’ve got some salespeople who are guilty of this practice, you can start by helping them hone their questioning skills. Questioning skills are at the very core of any successful selling process. When you question correctly, you look beneath the surface to discover and reveal what’s really going on in the prospect’s mind and heart.

Let’s take a quick look at 10 reasons why questions are so essential to your sales team’s success:

  1. Questions put the salesperson in control of the interaction.
  2. Questions demonstrate that the salesperson is interested in learning more about the prospect and their business.
  3. Questions allow salespeople to learn more.
  4. Questions allow salespeople to engage the prospect and get the prospect to do most of the talking.
  5. Questions help salespeople find out when, how, what and why a prospect will buy their product or service.
  6. Questions prove the salesperson is more interested in learning about the prospect than in talking about their own concerns.
  7. Questions give salespeople time to think.
  8. Questions display professionalism and depth of interest.
  9. Questions position salespeople as problem solvers.
  10. Questions prepare salespeople to present their product or service in exactly the same way the prospect wants to see it.

Do those 10 reasons help to convince you? Will they help convince your sales team? If they don’t do the trick, then try this example…

Consider how you would react if a local politician, candidate or official asked you the following questions:

  • What do you like most about the community where you live?
  • If you could change anything about that community, what would it be?
  • What would you like to see your community do more of? Less of?
  • What is the one thing that could make your community the best in the area?

Then compare this approach with a local official who just shows up and tells you about all of the great things they’re interested in doing for your community.

It’s easy to see the difference. You’d probably be happy to answer the questions – especially if the official was in a position to solve these problems or help with these issues and asked the questions in way that showed a genuine interest in your opinions. And you probably wouldn’t be nearly as receptive or willing to listen to the person that shows up with all the answers.

The problem is that the official with “all the answers” may fire off a bunch of great ideas, but without taking the time to find out what’s on your mind, they could totally miss your biggest concerns. They’re also not terribly interesting to talk to, because they’re too busy talking to engage you in a meaningful exchange of ideas.

And finally, consider the trust factor.

Who are you more likely to trust, the one who engages you in a dialogue by asking you the questions about your community, or the one with all the great ideas for improving your community?

Chances are you’d put a lot more trust in the person with the questions – and you might just tune all the “jawboning” out completely. If these were two candidates running against each other in an election, it’s a good bet that the one who asked the questions would make a better and more lasting impression AND get more votes.

This example clearly illustrates that selling, whether it’s selling ideas (like the local official) or selling products and services (like your sales team) requires focusing on and engaging with the buyer. The best way to do that is by using questions. But, there’s far more to using this technique than simply showing up and firing off a bunch of questions in the hope of somehow making a sale.

Here are 10 principles that you can teach your sales team to help make sure their questions are structured, well-delivered, well-timed and correctly articulated:

  1. Know exactly what you plan to ask –
    before you ever get in front of a prospect. Be careful, however, to make sure that your questions don’t sound “canned” in the way that you phrase them. This is where in-depth pre-call planning comes in.
  2. Ask open-ended and indirect questions –
    when you ask only “yes” or “no” type questions, you’re actually discouraging your prospect from opening up and offering more information. “Yes” or “no” questions often set a negative tone for your interaction as well. Open-ended questions help prospects tell you how they feel, what they want, or what they think.
  3. Strategically phrase your questions –
    getting the prospect to relate how he or she perceives his or her problems, needs or value-added expectations can help you to improve the chances of closing the sale. When you ask the right questions, the prospect will provide invaluable answers in terms of how you can sell your product or service to them.
  4. Aim your questions 
    try to use your questions to identify the one dominant drive that your prospect has. When you begin to notice a common thread that courses throughout your prospect’s answers, you’re probably homing in on their dominant need, problem or expectation. Once you are able to identify this thread, you should aim your questions in that direction in order to further your understanding of the way that your product or service can satisfy what the prospect is trying to accomplish.
  5. Uncover your prospect’s buying motives –
    ask several questions that will help you understand what is motivating your prospect to buy. These motives are important, because if you focus on the motivations, as well as the agenda of your prospect, you will stand a much better chance of finalizing a transaction.
  6. Avoid offensive or insensitive questions –
    while you might think that this goes without saying, sometimes sales professionals fail to evaluate the way that they ask questions. Be sure to ask questions in a polite and inoffensive manner if you hope to earn trust from your prospect.
  7. Start with broad questions and move toward narrow ones –
    broad questions tend to be less threatening than narrow questions, so start with these more general questions in order to produce more general information. After you have gained a basic understanding of your prospect’s situation, you should move into more detailed questions which will allow you to point to the detailed ways that your product or service can aid the prospect.
  8. Stick to easy-to-comprehend questions –
    trying to prove your intelligence and ability through questions with an extensive or specialized vocabulary will completely damage your chances of making a sale. Easy-to-answer questions will encourage your prospect to open up to you. They’ll also help demonstrate that you are ready and willing to learn from your prospect instead of trying to show off how much you know.
  9. Guide the interview and keep the tone positive –
    some prospects tend to stray away from the subject at hand – your sale. You can use your questions to continually guide the conversation back on course to avoid this time-consuming practice. You can keep the tone of your interview positive by asking questions in a way that allows your prospect to agree with you. Studies have shown that most people are more comfortable agreeing than disagreeing.
  10. Listen –
    be quiet and listen as the prospect attempts to answer your questions. Interruptions will, without a doubt, turn your prospect off to you. and you cannot listen to the prospect’s needs as long as you are talking. Therefore, let your prospect do most of the talking as you are interviewing him or her. This will surely increase your chances of finalizing the transaction.

By asking questions skillfully and sensitively, your sales team can take the guesswork out of selling – and buying. They can avoid the amateurish technique of holding up one product after another and asking, “Is this it?” and become highly respected professionals who render a valuable service to your customers.

In short, asking the right questions and then being in a position to prescribe exactly the right set of solutions to solve them is what professional selling is all about.