Questioning Skills

how good are your questioning skills?QUESTIONING IN SALES

One of the things that always surprises me in our work in professional services, is the response from partners and fee earners to this question – ‘have you ever been taught a commercial questioning tool?’  They nearly always answer 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 the needs of the client before being matched to the services a firm can provide to help them.  These needs may not be obvious to the client or the partner/fee earner (the sellers) 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 poorly structured questions.


We researched the success factors that sell professional services by asking partners and senior fee earners to rate 17 different points.  Questioning effectively was rated the third most important factor after building relationships based on trust over time and listening effectively.  We widened the definition to: Asks insightful and often prepared commercial questions to provoke thinking to uncover needs at the right time to develop the desire to buy.  Too often people selling professional services don’t focus on preparing questions for meetings with clients or potential clients and end up asking unstructured questions as the meeting progresses.  Questions that focus on easily available public information about the client’s company can begin to irritate the buyer and demonstrate that the sellers have not done their homework.  They may begin to wonder….what will it be like to work with these people if they don’t prepare for meetings?


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.’  Why are so few partners and fee earners not taught this crucial skill?  If they were highly proficient at questioning, what would be the impact on their sales success?  Developing the skill of questioning in sales requires preparation, practice and the application of simple memorable frameworks to ensure that all the bases are covered.


Through effective questioning, sellers of professional services could 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.  By asking good questions you demonstrate that you are interested rather than just securing the sale.  Ultimately the result you seek from your meetings is to progress them to the next stage in the sales cycle.  Instead 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’.

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

  1. Success Factors when Selling Professional Services – Check out the other 16 success factors we discovered and their importance:
  2. Selling Professional Services – This article covers a range of points about selling professional services and the need to create trust, including framing questions:
  3. Open-ended Sales Questions – A list of powerful open-ended sales questions:
  4. Essential Selling Principles Most Salespeople Get Wrong – Key points that bring out the importance of questioning and investigating:

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