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Asking Sales Questions Is Easier Said Than Done

Sam Manfer

Like you, I’ve been selling all my life and what I’ve learned is, asking good questions and listening effectively are the most powerful selling skills. Unfortunately, the dynamics between sales people and prospects/customers, coupled with tension and old habits makes asking questions and listening very difficult to execute consistently. Yes, many of you will say, you ask questions and listen. However, I contend that most of you ask only cursory questions, listen superficially, and can’t wait to give their pitch.

Questioning has levels — simple, intermediate and advanced. “How are you?” “Can I help you?” are basic questions. “What’s your budget?” “When will you need this?” are more intermediate. “Can we agree that you will order this next Tuesday?” "You seem hesitant. What are your concerns? " are more advanced. To reap the benefits of questioning one must be able to easily transition from the simple to the more advanced.

Effective listening involves understanding, which requires probing to truly comprehend what a person means by the words they speak. For example, when a person says, “I’m looking for someone who can give me good service.” The words good service could mean all sorts of things. The effective listener will probe the prospect to explain what good service actually looks like to him or her. Probing encourages the prospect to fully reveal the vision of what s/he wants. This requires skill, preparation and patience. Finally, effective listening means the ability to recite back to the customer exactly what they just described. This solidifies understanding and builds credibility.

So here are some steps to pull off these difficult tasks.