Professional selling is a complex and dynamic job that requires the very best of you mentally, physically, and emotionally. Successful selling requires you to be an expert at using different kinds of communication skills. While all communication skills are critical and very important, there is one particular skill that is more impactful and contributes more to a successful sale than any other communication skill. That skill is the ability to ask good questions. When a sales professional understands the types of questions to ask and their proper sequencing he or she has access to tools that can transform his or her career in exciting ways.
Five Types of Selling Questions
Over the last decade I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of sales professionals. In my experience the best sales people use five different types of questions in order to help their prospective buyer develop sufficient motivation to make a purchasing decision. These five types of selling questions are:
- Sorting Questions
- Problem Identification Questions
- Problem Clarification Questions
- Impact Questions
- Benefit of Solution Questions
Pay Close Attention to This
I will share with you several examples of the five different types of questions sales people can use when working to help a buyer intensify their desire to buy. Since these are just examples, you will obviously need to create your own unique questions that fit your personality, products, and industry.
Pay attention to the principle and purpose of the question, not the question itself. Focus on the type of information you are trying to get the buyer to share with you and what you want them to feel or do as a result. If you focus on those things, you can ask a variety of different kinds of questions that accomplish that purpose. Also, pay attention to the order the questions are in. The sequence of questions is designed to carry the buyer, step by step, from being intellectually minded (which usually never generates a sale), to being emotionally minded (people always buy emotionally and justify their decision intellectually later); which is right where they need to be to make a buying decision.
Some Examples to Consider
What is a Sorting Question?
Sorting Questions (SQs) help you find out facts about the buyer’s situation. You learn things the buyer already knows. Since they can feel a little like “interrogation” to the buyer, and since they do not directly impact the buyer motivation to buy, wise sales professionals do their homework upfront and use these questions sparingly. Try and mix these up with the other four types of questions as well. Strive to have about 5% of your total questions be SQ type questions.
- What brings you into the store today?
- How much data storage are you using now?
- Which department does most of your mailings?
- Is this your first time here, or have you visited us before?
What is a Problem Identification Question?
Problem Identification Questions (PIQs) help you and the buyers discover the main problems, issues, or challenges in their current situation that they want to change or fix. Focusing the sales conversation on the problem to be solved rather than the features or benefits of your product or service has been shown to dramatically improve selling outcomes. These types of questions are powerful in starting to develop the buyer’s motivation to buy. Try to have about 15% of your total questions be PIQ type questions.
- How satisfied are you with your current system?
- What is making your direct marketing efforts so difficult?
- As it relates to your employees, what would you like to see changed or improved?
- What are your customers complaining about the most?
- What do you feel is keeping you from beating your competition?
- What issues are you experiencing with your website?
What is a Problem Clarification Question?
Problem Clarification Questions (PCQs) help you and the buyer gain a 360 degree understanding of the nature of the issues or problems. Insights gained from these questions can dramatically impact your later recommendations. These questions are powerful in continuing to develop the buyer’s motivation to buy. Shoot for roughly 15% of your questions be PCQ type questions.
- Can you give me an example of what you’re describing?
- When do you notice the problem the most?
- What do you think is causing it?
- How long has that been an issue for you?
- What have you done in the past to address this issue?
- How did that work for you?
What is an Impact Question?
Impact Questions (IQs) help you and the buyer understand the repercussions and consequences that the problem is causing in the business or with the buyer personally. The side effects or results of these problems can usually be quantified in terms of time, money, or emotional impact. You want the buyer to calculate the impact that their problems are having in these terms if possible. These questions are extremely powerful and cause the buyer to clearly see their own reasons to buy. Aim to have approximately 30% of your questions be IQ type questions.
- Is this problem impacting your profit margins at all?
- How has this situation affected you personally?
- If nothing changes will this issue eventually go away or just get worse? Why?
- What effect is your slow delivery time having on customer retention?
- If your competitors lower their prices what impact will that have on you?
- It might be hard to quantify, but how much do you feel like this is costing you?
What is a Benefit of Solution Question?
Benefits of Solution Questions (BSQs) help the buyer articulate the outcomes and value of having their problems or issues solved. These questions help the buyer clarify their need to make a change or have a particular solution. They are extremely powerful and cause the buyer to convince themselves of why they need to buy, rather than having the sales person try and convince them. The buyer also overcomes their own doubts and concerns. Try to have about 35% of your questions be BSQ type questions.
- Can you share with me why updating your system is so important to you?
- How else would having a new website really help your company?
- What other departments would benefit if you’re operating expenses dropped by 25%?
- What advantages would your staff have with faster service?
- How would your customers be impacted if they could have 24 hour access?
- Would it help your stress level if payroll were handled for you on a monthly basis?
Do you know anyone who, as a child, successfully rode their bike or tied their shoe on their first try? Probably not. And why not? The reason is because those activities are skills and they require a lot of practice to master. The same holds true of the ability to ask good questions in selling. It is a skill. Very few people are naturally born with good questioning skills. They must be practiced a lot in order to be mastered. However, the reasons why so many sales professionals struggle with developing these kinds of skills are (1) They do not take the time to intentionally practice them, and (2) They try and fail a few times and conclude that talking more than listening is much easier.
In my experience, the sales people who rise to the top of their organizations have become masters at questioning skills. They have intentionally prepared questions and practiced asking questions and have gotten very comfortable asking questions. Even though they “fell off their bike” several times as they tried to master the skill, they did not quit or complain that the “new sales program doesn’t work.” They kept with it. They continued to practice. Eventually they mastered it and their sales increased. My suggestion to you is to learn from the best. Take the time to prepare and practice. Endure through the trial and error stages. Only then will you enjoy the sweet fruits of your hard won mastery of questioning skills.
Terry Hansen is a popular speaker, consultant, trainer and author on topics such as customer service, sales, marketing and management. He is regularly asked to train sales and management teams and consult with them on their marketing strategies. You can connect with Terry on LinkedIn or get more information by visiting www.TerryHansen.net or calling 844-205-5054.