Effective questioning skills are important in sales.
When you first meet with a sales prospect, chances are their initial responses to your questions will be superficial. That’s because they are not quite sure of you yet. If you dig too deep too quickly, you might put the prospect off and break rapport. Asking the right questions is an art because no one wants to feel like they are being interrogated by a salesperson. Learning to ask effective questions by layering will allow you to dig deeper into their problems and opportunities (needs).
Buyers are sometimes lost
Imagine if a friend called you from their travels and told you they were lost, the first thing you would ask them is “where are you?” You can’t help them find their way out of the situation unless you know exactly where they are. If they don’t know where they are, you then ask them to describe what’s around them.
- “Describe where you are?
- “Describe the landmarks around you?”
- “What buildings or crossroads can you see?”
These questions will help you determine where they are. Once you know where they are, you can determine how to help them find their way and what advice to give them. The next step is to find out where they want to go and how they will get there. So you would ask the following questions.
- “Where do you want to go?”
- “Why are you looking to go there?”
- “Will you be walking, driving or taking public transport?”
- “Do you want to take the quickest route, the cheapest route, the longest route or the most scenic route?”
Now that you have established where they are, where they want to go and how they plan on getting there, you can help them plan the next step. You would ask them some more in-depth questions.
- “Have you got a map with you?”
- “Do you have a phone with a GPS?”
- “Is there someone around you can ask for help”
- “What road signs can you see?”
You can’t help someone who is lost unless you know the answers to all these questions. It’s the exact same things when looking to uncover buyer needs. Buyers are simply lost.
Find out where the buyer is and where they want to go.
Use effective questioning techniques to find out what their problems or opportunities are (needs). Without knowing what their needs are, you have nothing to sell them. Even more important, is to find out what the impact or consequences are if they don’t take any action.
Without a problem getting worse or the idea of an opportunity slipping through their fingers, they have no motivation to buy. These are what are known as impact questions which is a critical step in the Bi-Sell-Cycle™ process.
Once you understand what the buyer’s needs are and their motivation to take action (which is to avoid pain or gain rewards) you want to establish what their target goals are. Whatever their target goal is – this becomes their dominant buying motive. There’s a very simple formula that you can follow to answer these very important questions. It’s called ASBP – it stands for:
- AS IS questions
- SHOULD BE questions
- BARRIER questions
- PAY OUT questions
Ask layered questions
When you first start to ask questions of a prospect, it’s likely they won’t open up to you immediately. As you get deeper and deeper into rapport, you can then start asking more difficult questions. This is known as layering your questions to gather more expansive information.
Ask AS IS questions
When meeting a prospect for the first time, you want to gain an understanding of their world. As Is Questions are used to explore what is currently going on with them both personally and professionally. Remember the analogy of a friend being lost above – you want to find out exactly where they are at this given point in time. You are looking to uncover any issues that indicate they are experiencing problems or opportunities (symptoms).
That means, asking questions to find out what’s happening with them right now. You would typically ask questions about:
- The person (e.g. “Tell me about your role and responsibilities?”)
- The Business (e.g. “Tell me about the challenges you are currently experiencing?”)
- Their Customers (e.g. “How well do you think you are doing satisfying customer expectations?)
- The Culture (e.g. “How would you describe the culture of your organisation?”)
- Their competition (e.g. “Who is your biggest competition and what is it they do well?”)
- Training (e.g. “What skills and qualifications do you and your staff need to have to fulfill the needs of your customers?”)
- Decision Makers (e.g. “Tell me about the decision-making process and apart from you, who else is involved?”)
If you notice, all these questions are open-ended questions. That is a question that doesn’t evoke a one word response. Think of yourself as a
CSI BSI (Business Scene Investigator). What you are looking for are symptoms and clues that something is wrong or there are possibilities out there that would improve their current situation.
Sometimes a prospect will tell you what their problems are or what opportunities they want to pursue. They are ready to buy now and want you to match your products or services accordingly. Tread with caution. Just because a prospect tells you what they want, it may not always be what they need. Asking some well-constructed AS IS questions just to confirm that you do have a real understanding of their actual needs might mean the difference in closing the sale and making sure they are satisfied with their decision to buy from you.
Ask SHOULD BE questions
Should Be questions are used to uncover hidden needs as well as identify what the buyer’s target goals are. The objective is to highlight what success looks like to them. Their response will tell you what should be happening in their world if they achieve their target goal. This is their vision for the future. What their ideal world would look like if their problems were eliminated or opportunities realized. This becomes their dominant buying motive.
The types of questions you could ask are…
- “What is your vision for the future?”
- “Describe for me your ideal world (business)?”
- “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
- “How would you go about resolving (what their problem or opportunity is)?”
- “Where do you expect to see the greatest growth in your business in the near future?”
- “What specific results are you looking for?”
Ask BARRIER questions
Barrier questions are used to find out what is stopping them achieving their goals and objectives. You want to know where the blockages are and any other considerations like budget, time constraints and critically important – what their decision-making process is. Without knowing what’s stopping them from moving forward, it makes it harder to tailor a solution that will overcome the barriers to meet their target goals.
The types of questions you could ask are…
- “What is currently preventing you from achieving your goals?”
- “What’s preventing you from reaching your targets?”
- “Who or what in your opinion is holding you back?”
- “What needs to change to help you achieve your goals?”
- “What customer concerns are not being addresses and why?”
- “What needs to change in order for you to…?”
Asking effective barrier questions will often uncover hidden needs even the prospect was unaware of. But this in itself is not enough. You need to explore the impact or consequences of allowing problems to remain or opportunities to go unrealized.
Ask Impact questions
Knowing what a buyer’s needs are is not enough to motivate them to buy because there is no tension. There has to be tension in order for them to take any kind of action. If there is no impact or consequences of taking away a problem or realizing an opportunity, they will remain in their comfort zone and not buy from anyone. They won’t see a reason to. To create that tension you need to ask the following question.
“What would be the impact if you don’t (resolve this problem or realize this opportunity)?”
This is the million dollar question. It’s the impact of not doing anything that ultimately determines the prospects motivation to buy. That’s when they realize that if they do nothing, the problem will get worse or the opportunity will disappear. Avoid this question at your peril because it is the one question that will help create the necessary tension for the prospect to buy.
Ask PAY OUT questions
Pay Out questions are used to find out the benefits the prospect will receive if they take action (to buy from you). It’s what their future looks like, their ideal if their problems were resolved and their opportunities realized.
- “So if we could (take away your problem or help you realize this opportunity) that would be a major advantage for you wouldn’t it?”
- “So if we could (……….), what impact would this have on you and your business?”
- “So if we could offer you a solution that would make this happen, then that’s something you would like to see wouldn’t it?”
What you have in fact done by this stage is given the prospect a reason to move forward with you. You have created tension by asking the impact question. They now know the problem will worsen or they will lose an opportunity to gain rewards. What you also achieve is something called conditional agreement to move forward.
At this point of meeting with a prospect, you want to go away with something. That way forward may mean any of the following:
- Arranging a follow up meeting
- Writing a proposal
- Providing a quote
- Giving a presentation
- Closing the sale
Before you go, there is one final question you must ask.
“Apart from you, who else is involved in the decision-making process?”
If you are going to present a proposal or give a presentation, you want to make sure ALL of the decision makers are involved if possible. By asking them “apart from you…” you allow them to save face if they are not the decision maker.
On a final note
Perfecting the art of asking effective questions when faced with a new prospect will significantly increase your ability to close sales and grow your business.
In A Nutshell
Ask AS IS questions to find out buyer needs – what their problems or opportunities are. Without knowing what their needs are, they have no motivation to buy and you have no solutions to sell.
Ask SHOULD BE questions to find out what the buyers vision for the future is, what their ideal world looks like. Where do they want to go?
As BARRIER questions to find out more specifically what problems buyers are facing and where the opportunities lie and what is stopping them achieving their goals. These questions will often uncover hidden needs even the buyer is unaware of.
Ask PAY OUT questions to find out the buyer target goals to determine their dominant buying motive.
Make sure you ask the impact question, “what would be the impact if…” to create tension to buy.