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What’s A Killer Question To Ask A Customer….

by David Brock on August 4th, 2009

Visit enough social networking sites, LinkedIn questions, and sales forums, and you will see questions like this:  “What’s a killer question to ask a customer?” or  “What’s a killer value proposition that will win?” or “What’s a killer close?”

Someone is always looking for the “killer” approach, as if you can answer that independent of the customer, the situation and the solutions you represent.  Is the killer question I ask a consumer looking to buy a new car the same killer question I ask a CEO investing millions of dollars restructucturing his organization and strategy, or the same question I ask an EVP of sales looking to improve the productivity and effectiveness of his sales people?

Killer Question.jpg I’m distressed the question is asked, I’m even more distressed reading people that answer with killer questions, value propositions, fantastic pitches and the latest greatest closing technique.  As if selling can be reduced to a sequence of gimmicks:  The Clever Opener, Interesting Banner, Followed By The Killer Question.  Don’t worry about listening for an answer because you are preparing for The PITCH — why people absolutely should buy your product — even though you don’t know what they need.  After the PITCH you move to the Killer Value Proposition, usually something about being the best in the world, and then on to the Cool Close.  Wrap up that meeting, go to the next customer and recycle the same stuff.

It seems people believe they can string together all these elements–almost independent of the customer–checking each one off as they go, maybe stopping once in a while to listen to the customer, then moving on the the next item to check off until they have worked through the call and are ready to try one of the latest cool closing techniques.  Apply these “killer” approaches and close more sales!

Professional selling is not about the mindless execution of techniques (customer attendance purely optional).  Sales is about engaging the customer in a meaningful dialogue about their goals, needs, and problems.  It is about discussing how you can help the customer achieve their goals and the value your solutions provide the customer.  Professional selling is a collaborative process helping the customer through their buying process. 

Selling is not about techniques, tricks, “killer” anything.  People claiming to be able to train you on the killer questions, super closes, or slick value propositions are as good as the snake oil peddlers of the past.

Great sales training will focus on processes for planning and executing the sales call.  For example, Neil Rackham did not talk about Killer Questions To Ask A Customer.  He focused on a questioning process—SPIN–that is very powerful in determining what the customer wants to achieve, quantifying the impact of the problem, and testing the urgency around implementing a solution.  He doesn’t teach you great questions, he teaches you how to develop great questions—appropriate for the person you are calling on and their situation at the moment.

My friend, Jill Konrath of Selling To Big Companies, will not give you a dozen cool value propositions.  She will coach you in how to develop your unique value proposition—one that’s appropriate for the customer, what they are trying to achieve, and which presents your abilities to help them achieve that better than anyone else.  Hire Jill as a coach and she will give you advice and tools for developing value propositions, but she will never give you the killer value proposition—that’s your job to determine with each person involved in the sales process.

These processes and tools to help you think about your customer, their situation, your ability to help them solve their problems.  Killer sales calls exist, I see them executed every day by great professionals (I even execute one every once and a while).  They only exist in a specific context of a customer, their situation at the moment, and your abilities in the call.  Each killer sales call is unique—the questions are unique, the value proposition, the presentation, and close.  But killer sales calls are planned and executed using great processes.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Effective selling is based on thoughtful, disciplined work.  There are great processes to facilitate your ability to sell and engage the customer, but there is no magic or trick.  If you are looking for these, you are in the wrong profession.

  1. Steve Bent permalink

    I beg to differ.

    Believe it or not for just $19.95 each month, I will send you killer closes that are GUARANTEED!

    These closes will negate the need for QUESTIONING and even the need to listen to your customer!! Fantastic!!


    How many more sales calls could you get done, how many more pitches could you make, how many more sales could you be working on if you didn’t have to spend time LISTENING to your dumb customer!!??

    A LOT!!

    Say “bye-bye” to MATCHING, “Auf Weidersehen” to LISTENING, and “Sayonara” to QUESTIONING!

    Just $19.95 a month will set you free of the dull part of selling, save you having to think or do any work on your sales calls AND allow YOU to do ALL the talking!!

    So just deposit the money today and I will send you your first killer close – 100% guaranteed to get you shot down in flames before 1 or multiple clients in ANY type of sales presentation!

    (We GUARANTEE these closes will kill you in ANY sales situation and as such by entering into the contract you are 100% responsible for any loss of credibility, job, house & partner)

    Call now – 1-800-KAMIKAZECLOSE

    • Sign Me Up Steve! Do you accept PayPal?

      Is there a way I can email my killer question, value prop and close to a customer so they just check a box to order?

      I can always count on your sense of humour (notice my cultural sensitivity)–it’s as warped as mine.

  2. Thanks for the splendid post, Dave.

    I agree with you completely that no such magic trick or secret word or killer question exists. Sales is a constantly evolving environment and no redundant formula or gimmick shall survive in it.

    Keep them coming!

  3. Chris permalink

    Thanks for another great perspective, Dave.

  4. Great Post David. I wrote one up about questions yesterday Feel free to give us some feedback or share a guest post if you’d like.

    Chris O.
    The Referral Key Team

    • Thanks Chis, I read your post and will comment there as well. I think people misunderstand questions and questioning. Often, I see people asking lot’s of questions, but they really aren’t making progress in understanding.

      The point of what we are trying to do is engage the customer in a meaningful dialog about their business, challenges they face, new opportunities, and how we might help them.

      Much of the time, sales people miss that opportunity because they spend too much time pitching—talking. Those that ask questions, sometimes do it in a way that gets a lot of information, but may not engage the customer.

      A balance of thoughtful questioning and talking—creating a dialog is critical to engaging customers and to our success.

  5. Thanks for a great post David. I’m reminded of Jeffrey Gitomer’s quote “If you make a sale you can earn a commission. If you make a friend, you can earn a fortune”. Is there any one “Ultimate Question” you can ask someone that will make them become your friend?? Don’t be fickle in your sales approach and treat your potential customers like friends. Do this and they will trust you. If they trust you they will buy from you!!!

  6. David,

    I don’t consider gimmicky to ask this “Ultimate Question” once we think we have reached a point where we need to know where the customer is regarding our solution.

    “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being “definitely not buying” and 10 being “definitely buying,” where are you right now regarding our solution?”

    Obviously you want to get to 9 or 10.

    If it is less than 9, then you have to make a decision. The number you get back is the number I would want from my sales rep regarding what the customer is saying and not what he thinks.

    No answer means to me that they are not buying from us. This is an investment question. Without at least an 8, it is hard to invest resources in an account if the customer is not very positive about our solution.

    It is a fair question that must be asked.


    • Jay: Thanks for the comment. I think it is critical to understand the customer’s assessment of their views of our solution and how it compares to the alternatives they may be considering. I like a scoring approach, but think there is a different set of questions, with a scoring, that give you better insight into the customer views and positioning vis a vis the alternatives.

      The problem with the question as you posed it, it can only be asked at or near the culmination of the sales cycle, when there is very little you can do about the response and you have already made the bulk of your investment. For example, the question would be considered an unreasonable and unfair question in discovery or early in proposing. You want to get their assessment through out the process, but this question does not elicit that.

      Phrased differently, the answers to a scored question provides a simple SWOT analysis to help refine the strategy, understand what you need to address, or whether you should even consider continuing to sell. Rephrased and repositioned, the 3-8’s give you tremendous insight into what needs to be done next at any point in the sales process. For example, I could ask it shortly after qualification (not as phrased), and it shapes much of what I do in discovery. I can ask it toward the end of discovery to see how things have changed, both for us and the competition, I could ask in the proposal phase, and so forth.

      So I agree with the concepts, but I think the question itself needs to be changed quite a bit to get the full value. Plus it has to be positioned in a contextual sense that will get full engagement from the customer in responding.

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