Thursday, 12 May 2011

38 GREAT Sales Questions - the craft of structured conversational questioning

Communication, the act of exchanging information, is a fundamental aspect of professional selling. Not only is it unprofessional to ‘tell sell’, it is often ineffective.

If we are doing the lion’s share of the talking, then we are not in control of the interview - so don’t sell benefits at every opportunity: Ration them and make them more powerful by asking structured questions. This will enable you to identify the buyer’s real needs and concerns, build rapport and maintain control of the meeting.

The main purpose of the sales meeting is to:

• Get information
• Give information
• Close with commitment.

The purpose of questioning is to uncover potential problems and precipitate buying signals upon which to draw the interview to a proposition and close: We need to exercise control and patience by careful listening or we will miss the signals by being too anxious to put across our points.

Different types of questions elicit different types of response, and are therefore used for different purposes. The basic categories are Open and Closed, the former being used to get information - or open the customer up - and the latter to confirm or clarify the information as you go along.

Often, particularly in the early stages of a client relationship, simply using open questions will not get sufficient response. In order to gain further information we need to use probing techniques. These build the picture by extending the questioning process, and using pauses and unfinished sentences to get the other person talking. Remember, silence is one of the best tools we have as sales people, particularly because it is so rarely used!

Open.................... Closed

Who........................... Can
Why........................... Will
What ..........................Are
Where .........................Is
How ...........................Have

Limited Choice
Open Leading

To help to control the meeting, it is often useful to direct the other person’s attention to a small range of options, thus leaving them with a limited choice in their answer. The use of the word ‘prefer’ to indicate that you are looking for their preference makes this type of question more friendly.

In many meetings more than one topic is being discussed. Link questions are useful for steering the discussion whilst allowing the other person to do the majority of the talking; this type of question is also useful for bringing the other person back to the point of the meeting if they have moved away from it.

One type of question that is extensively used by inexperienced sales people and politicians is the Leading question - “would you agree that...?” - which is invariably closed. Whilst leading questions have their use in guiding people to give positive answers, they can be seen as being manipulative, and are therefore irritating. Using Open Leading questions, on the other hand, is much more beneficial, though these are harder to frame. In effect, you are guiding the other person to tell you that they want what you have to offer, and this is the basis of all good questioning in sales.

Controlling the meeting

• However good you are at asking questions, people will not want to answer them unless they know why you are asking. Signposting the reasons for your questions, and finding the ‘YOU’ Appeal for them to give good quality answers, will help with this process, and will reduce the misunderstandings which form one of the main barriers to communication.

• To ensure that you understand clearly what you have been told, you should confirm the other person’s statement by restating or repeating what has been said, and clarify any points of confusion. Making the assumption that you understand their meaning will lead to misunderstandings.

• Often a meeting will cover a lot of ground, many points being discussed. In order to consolidate this discussion, it is valuable to summarise the proceedings to that point, checking for agreement and understanding. This can only be achieved effectively if you have been note taking during the meeting, showing both consideration and respect for your customer, and enabling you to keep an accurate account.

• None of this will be of any use unless you listen to what is being said. It is not, however, sufficient just to listen: You need to show that you are listening actively by demonstrating through you body positioning, eye contact and tone of voice that he or she is the most important person to you during your conversation. Show understanding and confirm that under-standing by paraphrasing what has been said to you - always ensure that you have made a thorough diagnosis before you attempt to prescribe.
This will help you to build rapport with them, and thus aid your communication further.

Example questions:

Background information
1. Tell me briefly about the scope of your company’s products and services.
2. How does the running of this type of business affect your department?
3. How many people report to you?
4. What are the key issues regarding…?
5. What are the present concerns regarding the purchase of equipment/service/ products?
6. What emphasis do you place on…?
7. What priority do you give to…?
8. How important is…?

Company supplier benefits
1. How important is it to purchase from a large and well-established company?
2. How do you define what is good service for your company?
3. What level of service do you offer your customers?
4. What degree of service would you expect to see after the purchase was made?
5. How important is it to have a local supplier/distributor nearby?
6. What service would you expect from the local supplier/distributor?
7. Apart from price, what other criteria have you got for the decision?

Establishing the decision making unit
1. How are decisions to purchase this type of product made?
2. Who is involved in approving the expenditure for this product?
3. What are the criteria upon which decisions to purchase are made?
4. What would happen if you needed an extra £10k to spend on equipment but did not have budget approval?
5. When purchasing this type of equipment what do you look for most in the package?
6. When do you have to make a decision by?

Finding out about the finances
1. When is your budget year?
2. Who holds the budget?
3. Up to what limit can money be spent from the budget before Board approval is required?
4. How important are cash flow/discounting/settlement terms of payment? Why?
5. Who allocates budgets and who spends them?

Establishing the past
1. How long have you been with the company?
2. What criteria did you/your predecessor establish when purchasing equipment?
3. If you went to purchase today, how would the criteria be changed?
4. What time scales for tender/purchase/instruction and commissioning do you envisage?
5. If there was one thing you could change about your current supplier, what would that be?

Establishing the future
1. To what extent is your company expanding?
2. What changes do you foresee in the next 6-12 months?
3. How will methods of purchase change?
4. Who else will we need to speak to?
5. Where else do you see the company locating/expanding its production base?
6. Who else within your industry do you think would benefit from talking to us?
7. If you had a magic wand what would you change in the (packaging) industry?

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