Good salespeople know that asking questions is the most effective way to learn about the needs of your customers. But you’ve got to ask the right questions. Otherwise, you risk scaring prospective customers out the door–or simply annoying them so much that they decide to buy elsewhere.
1. What brings you here today?
When someone enters a business, the salesperson often asks something along the lines of “What can I show you today?” But that question makes it far too easy for your customer to say, “Nothing, I’m just browsing.” That reply gives you no information–it doesn’t help you meet the prospective customer’s needs. When you instead ask, “What brings you to our store today?” (or, “What prompted you to call us today?”), you get deeper insight–and the opportunity to start building a mutually beneficial relationship.
2. Why do you want this product or service?
When a customer asks whether a company offers a certain product or service, many sales reps have a tendency to reply with a simple yes or no. Next time, try immediately following up your “yes” by asking what prompted them to seek out this product or service the first place. I once used this question when a prospect asked me if we had a product comparable to one of our major competitor’s offerings. “Well, we’re throwing your competitor off the account,” the man answered. That knowledge allowed me to explain that my company not only carried the product he wanted but that we could also meet the needs of this large account.
3. How will you go about making this decision?
In any sale, it is important to thoroughly understand how the purchase decision will be made and which key players are calling the shots. If your prospect answers this question truthfully, the knowledge you gain lets you tailor your approach. I once asked a materials manager how his company was going decide what to purchase, expecting him to say, “We’re going to choose the product with the lowest price.” Instead, he told me that the head of engineering was making the buying decision, which allowed me to adjust my strategy and focus on the company’s engineering department.
4. What is your timeline?
It’s amazing how many salespeople will push forward with a sale even thought they have no idea how important the purchase actually is to the customer. The answer to “What is your timeline?” is a good indicator of how urgent the prospect’s need is. Then, you can match his level of urgency. This helps the prospect see that you understand him–and increases the chance that he’ll choose your product or service.
5. What would you like to have happen next?
This powerful closing question is easy to use and–crucially–isn’t intimidating for the prospect. When you ask the prospect what she’d like to have the next step be, you’re basically asking for the sale in a non-pressuring way. The answer will uncover any still-unanswered objections the prospect has, and if there are none, you’re clear to bring the sale to a close. This final question is especially helpful when a purchase decision has been repeatedly delayed.