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The Art of Asking Insightful Questions

You have the meeting.  You have been trying to schedule it for a long time.  It is with a high-level executive in a key prospect account.  This is it—your shot to create an opportunity.  Now what?  What are you going to talk about?  What do you want to accomplish?  How do you prepare?

The objective of an initial sales call is to focus on the prospect’s business—not your product or solution.   The first meeting will have specific outcomes, such as:

  1. To establish credibility and add value to the executive
  2. To get information and create interest

To guide a constructive conversation, top performing sales reps prepare deliberate and insightful questions.  In fact, it is these questions that are more important to building your credibility and creating interest in the mind of the buyer, than the product information you may be anxious to pitch.

An exceptional sales call rarely happens by accident.  Preparing great questions that are relevant, specific and thoughtful, are the hallmark of a successful and interesting meeting.  If the executive’s take away at the end of your time together is, “that was interesting”, you’ve done your homework with well-planned questions.

There are three types of questions that are the foundation for sales call preparation.  The cadence of these questions is how a rep shares and confirms insights with the buyer.  The questions create context, determine the level of information a prospect needs, and identify the missing pieces a sales rep needs to effectively qualify an opportunity.

Let’s dive into what I like to refer to as the big 3: O-P-C.

#1: The Open-ended Question.  These are broad questions that enable the sales rep to understand the current thinking and position of the prospect.  Open-ended questions don’t have a single word answer or even a right or wrong answer.  They begin with words such as who, what, where, when, why, tell me about it and describe for me.

Open questions are designed to allow the prospect to provide their insight and perspective about what is going on and why it is important.  They tend to establish a high-level dialogue.  Preparing specific open-ended questions is critical when engaging an executive.  Examples include:

What is the state of your company or business today?
Describe for me your current situation and challenges?
How do you handle this today?

The answers to open-ended questions provide tremendous insight and context, so be sure to take notes.

#2: The Probing Question.  Probing questions are much more targeted than open questions.  The answer to a probing question may be a finite answer: yes or no, true or false.  Probing questions typically follow open-ended questions.  They offer a way to drill down deeper into any area relevant to better understand your prospect.  Probing questions identify additional information that a prospect may not have initially recognized or included with the answer to the open question.

It is often the probing questions that demonstrate your knowledge and experience to the prospect.  Probing questions can expand the prospect’s perspective since they can be used deliberately to uncover needs or requirements that you may be uniquely positioned to address.

In sales, our communication process is to ask open and probing questions to create shared understanding and agreement with the prospect as well as to build your credibility.  Examples of probing questions include:

Is it because of a specific problem or challenge?
Have you considered a specific solution?
When do you need to address this problem?

#3: The Confirming Question.  Asking confirming questions validates you have a solid understanding and are engaged with the prospect’s issues.  They are a critical component of your questioning cadence, yet are often overlooked from the questioning process.  Confirming questions summarize what you have heard and verify that you heard it correctly and completely.

Confirming questions demonstrate your listening skills and reinforce your expertise and relevance to further build your credibility.  Confirming questions also enable the prospect to clarify or restate anything that may not have been clearly described.  Most important, confirming questions validate shared understanding.  Examples include:

Let me play back what I have heard…
In summary, you described…. Did I get that right?

When creating opportunities, the questions you ask are much more important than any answers you are prepared to give.  This is because the context and perspective of your prospect’s response to your guided questions will shape your reply versus having canned answers.  With this questioning framework in place, you will be able to position yourself and your products or services in-line with their paradigm for a higher likelihood of success in ultimately closing the sale.

Conversational questioning skills go beyond knowing what to ask.  It includes knowing how to ask the questions.  Your initial sales call is a conversation.  It is not an interrogation.  The proper mix of open, probing, and confirming questions creates an engaging dialogue and uncovers a prospect’s need.

Remember, you know your product is perfect for them.  Your questions will help them see your product as the ideal solution! Establish credibility, value, and interest by preparing deliberate, purposeful and insightful O-P-C questions.

 

Sell with Value!