Too often we need to know what is going on or what people are doing or even what outcome is expected and we find it difficult to drag out a precise answer.
My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the Sage of Wythenshawe, always used to tell me that asking what seems to be the right question doesn’t always get to the right answer and a good sales person has to have some other weapons in the armoury.
In fact Phil was a master at very persistent and forensic questioning and he always seemed to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion which generally meant an order. Primarily this was because he was also a great listener.
One of his techniques was to keep on asking “Why is that?” and he said that he had to ask five times to be certain of getting to the truth which he did more often than not. The potential problem with the “why” question is that it can be construed as aggressive so it needs to be modified in some way.
A slightly softer alternative to that question is “and what else?” and continuing until either the customer gets fed up or gives a reason for the sales person to say “We can do something for you on that basis”. We call it peeling the onion.
One of the persistent problems of the sales person is the temptation to talk rather than to listen. The fact is that they never seem to answer that great question which is always in the mind of the customer:
“What’s in it for me?” also known as the WIFM question.
The customer is only interested in what is right for him/her and until the right questions are asked and answered fully and comprehensively, then there will be no meeting of minds and certainly no likelihood of a satisfactory conclusion.
I remember interviewing a presentable young woman for a sales position which went very well until she said:
“I will be great at sales - I have the gift of the gab”
End of interview.
I know that everyone who has been on a sales training course is strongly encouraged to use open questions and only use a closed question to strengthen an answer, in other words to get a “yes” or “no”.
Open questions start with Who, Why, What, Where, When and How? Simple examples are “Why do you want that product”, “What are you trying to achieve?” or “How do you think that can best be done?”
Closed questions start with a verb like Do, Have, Will and so on, all of which will give either a Yes or a No answer.
It is simple but needs a lot of concentration to make sure that we use the right questioning technique because it is all too easy to fall back into asking closed questions. Just listen to the Today programme on Radio 4 to hear that. Most people will expand on the monosyllabic reply but try it on with a child and that is what you will get – Yes or No.
The answer then is the question and questioning and it doesn’t only apply to selling. It covers virtually every facet of conversation when you think about it. Finally always remember that the prime subject for conversation in most people’s minds concerns themselves so make sure that you give them that pleasure.
Just make sure that you are listening not just hearing.