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Learn to Ask Better Sales Questions | jaconsulting.co.uk
Ask Better Sales Questions

Successful sellers in complex sales situations take the time to learn how to ask questions with purpose.

One of the things that always surprises me in our work in complex sales is the response to this question – ‘have you ever been taught a commercial questioning tool?’ Whatever the title used the answer to the question is nearly always ‘no’, which is surprising when you look at the research about selling and the importance of questioning.

Essentially, questioning in sales should be like a voyage of discovery to unearth what matters to the client before being matched to the services or products a firm or business can provide to help them.

What matters to the client may not be obvious either to the client or the seller in the meeting, but through effective questioning sellers can ask insightful questions based on research, knowledge and focus on potential impact.

Otherwise the old saying that to assume is to make an ass-(out of)-you-(and)-me will apply and often the over eager seller will draw inaccurate conclusions from asking a few or wrongly structured questions.

Why better questioning in sales is important

Neil Rackham, who did extensive research into selling before writing his widely published book called SPIN Selling, wrote ‘investigating is the most important of all selling skills and it’s particularly crucial in large sales.’ So, how do you ‘investigate’ in sales? Put simply, be curious and ask questions with purpose.

Why then, are so few taught this crucial skill? If more sellers, particularly those involved in complex sales, were highly proficient at questioning, their sales success would improve significantly.

Take time to learn to ask better questions

The ability to ask better sales questions is a highly praised skill in any sales person. Buyers often describe these sellers as ‘professional, interested, knowledgeable, constructive’.

But it’s a skill which requires commitment and practice to develop to an effective standard. The knowing what to do is the easier part to pick up. Most people understand the need to ask better questions and quickly learn there are different question types.

The tricky part is that each type of question has a different purpose and the skill comes from learning how to apply them. Only with practice will the art of asking better sales questions become easier. Confidence will build and proficiency will follow helping sellers get to the nub of an issue which the client views as a problem serious enough to need resolving.

3 steps to asking better sales questions

    • Be prepared; do your homework too often sellers don’t focus on preparing questions for meetings and end up asking ineffective questions as the meeting progresses. You need to consider what would be the appropriate questions to ask for where the client is in their buyer journey. 

Questions that only focus on easily available public information about the client’s company can sound like an inquisition. That will likely highlight the lack of preparation and irritate the buyer. They may begin to wonder … ‘what will it be like to work with these people if they don’t prepare for meetings?’.

Research says that through asking better sales questions, sellers in complex sales will increase their chances to persuade the client or potential client to buy. Next time you are on your way to a meeting, think about how much time you spent preparing your questions and how you structured them. Demonstrate you’ve done your homework and prepared well. By asking challenging questions you demonstrate that you are interested rather than only wanting to secure a sale. Ultimately the result you seek from your meetings is to progress them to the next stage in the sales cycle. Fail to prepare and you may experience the client shaking your hand and insincerely saying ‘we’ll be in touch’ when they actually think ‘they just didn’t seem to get us and our business challenges’.

    • Don’t rush to solutions it’s all too easy to hear what the client says in a meeting or call about a problem they are experiencing and immediately respond with ‘we can fix that for you’ without thoroughly exploring what the client is actually telling you. It’s important to keep asking questions which clarify or delve deeper into the client’s issues. Hang back with your solutions or fixes until you find out more about the problem, the difficulties and the impact the problem might be creating. And the only way you’ll find that out is by asking different question types and really listening to the client or customer’s replies.
    • Supplement your questions with a question frameworkdeveloping the skill of questioning in sales requires preparation, practice and the application of simple memorable frameworks to ensure that all the bases are covered. There are many frameworks widely available; look for those based on good research foundations about what the best sellers do.

Asking better sales questions will help you demonstrate a deeper and insightful interest into the challenges your customer or client is facing. Remember, whilst being prepared and following a framework will help you structure the conversation and questions you want to ask, there is no substitute for actually asking questions. Next time you meet your client or customer ask yourself ‘What questions will help me further investigate my customer’s needs?’

You may find the following resources valuable about questioning when selling professional services:

Selling Professional Services – This article covers a range of points about selling professional services and the need to create trust, including framing questions: http://trustedAdvisor.com/articles/selling-professional-services

Open-ended Sales Questions – A list of powerful open-ended sales questions: http://www.rainsalestraining.com/blog/21-powerful-open-ended-sales-questions/

Essential Selling Principles Most Salespeople Get Wrong – Key points that bring out the importance of questioning and investigating: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2013/05/03/10-essential-selling-principles-most-salespeople-get-wrong/#75a8c6f16a4c

Question Time: Why An Excellent Question Framework Is Critical To Sales Success –  Find out why an excellent question framework is critical to sales success: https://jaconsulting.co.uk/question-framework/

Are you really listening to clients Becoming a better listener demonstrates you care about your client and their issues. https://jaconsulting.co.uk/become-a-better-listener/


John Moss

Email: johnmoss@jaconsulting.co.uk

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmoss1

About John Moss – John’s extensive background in sales, marketing and general management has been followed by three decades in management consultancy. John is fiercely committed to helping individuals and businesses grow and succeed; his talent for spotting what needs to be done, his tenacity for making sure things then happen, his commitment to growing long-term business relationships and his ability to impart that knowledge to other people make him an inspirational consultant, leader and coach.


And a final thought

At JA Consulting we help businesses and individuals take the theory of selling and put it into practice. We’re here to help you learn how to spot and grow business opportunities, how to develop strong and transferable selling skills and how to generate robust account management. To find out more, talk to us or email me at johnmoss@jaconsulting.co.uk

If you have any questions, our team is ready to help. Contact us….