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Why Questions Are A Sales Person’s Best Tool–It’s Not Because Of The Answers

by David Brock on August 9th, 2012

Art Petty wrote a great post, 4 Reasons Why Questions Are A Leader’s Best Friend.  It inspired this post–it’s been something I’ve spoken about often, but never written about. 

Much has been written about questioning and it’s importance, particularly in the discovery phase of the sales process.  It’s through effective questioning that we determine what the customer is trying to achieve, why, what they are looking for, how they will evaluate alternatives, and how they will make a decision.  Sales people are eager to get the answers to their questions because it tells them what they need to do to win the business.

But questions can have a far more important purpose.  Questions are helpful to our customers. 

As Art points out in his article, questions teach.  They help the customer look at things differently.  Questions help customers “question themselves,”  to identify and assess issues, to reflect on what they are trying to achieve.  Often, the best possible response I can get from a question is, “No one has ever asked me that before.”  Or, “I’ve never considered this before.”  Questions which drive the customer to reflect, to rethink, to consider something different have tremendous power.  The simple power of “What if…….” can change everything.  They open new possibilities, they engage the customer in considering change and in soliciting our points of view.  Questions that teach are more powerful than the “teaching pitch.”  Instead of telling the customer something, we engage the customer in collaborative discovery.

Engaging the customer in this mode of questioning drives innovation–on both our parts.  The customer has a much richer perspective–perhaps different than where they started.  We do, as well.  Often, I’ve find the customer needs and I can provide a much richer solution than either of us previously thought of.

Questions can go beyond teaching.  Questions are important in helping the customer crystallize their own thinking.  While customers may think they know their needs, priorities, and requirements, until they have to express them and define them, they may be somewhat abstract or ill-defined.   Being forced to “answer” the question, forces the customer to clarify their own thinking and what they are trying to achieve.  The answers create a “concreteness” against which they can make decisions.

Questions can help the customer identify gaps in their own understanding, different points of view within their team, things they may be forgetting.  Questions help the customer come up with better answers for themselves, not just for the sales person.

It’s important, as we develop the questions we are going to ask the customer to go beyond the answers we need–but to help the customer get the answers they need!

Are you leveraging your questioning to create value for your customers or are you just looking for answers?

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