Subscribe to The Art & Science of Complex Sales

    The questions we ask, shape the answers we get

    New Call-to-action

    In sales, we learn that questions are critical to our ability to understand our customers and how we might be most helpful. Questions, in addition to eliciting information, opinions and points of view; can enhance both the our customers knowledge and build their confidence in us.

    It’s always a thrill to ask a customer a question, hopefully deeply insightful, that elicits a response, “No one has ever asked me this before. In fact, I had never considered it myself. Can you help me understand more?”

    But too often, we ask the wrong questions, both we and the customer fail to learn what we might.

    • We ask trivial questions that, if we had done our homework, we could have learned the information before the meeting. But we are too busy or don’t care enough to do so. The customer might be polite, answering your question, but in her head, there’s the real answer, “This guy’s wasting my time, he can’t help me.”
    • We’re trained to ask questions as part of need discovery. But too often, those questions focus on determining their need for our products. Customers don’t have a need for our products, they need to achieve things in their business.
    • We ask qualifying questions, but usually we are focusing on ourselves, trying to understand if this is a real opportunity, if we are working with the right people, if we should invest our time. We fail to recognize, the customer is qualifying us through the quality of our questions and thoughtfulness. We fail to ask questions challenging the customer to qualify themselves for themselves–Why change, why now, what happens if we don’t, what happens if we do and fail? Those are questions the customers may not have answers for, but need to answer.
    • We continue through the process, focusing our questions on how well they understand us and our offerings. And while most are too polite, customers are probably answering, silently, “You’re just like everyone else.” These questions, again, focus on informing us, but not on helping the customer think about what they are doing or what they need to learn.
    • And we ask closing questions, “Would you like that in blue or jet black?” That’s always a fun question to ask someone buying software, it blows their minds. These questions are basically manipulative, we even label them with closing techniques.
    • Many of our questions are questions with an agenda. They are meant less to learn but more to elicit the answers we want to hear.

    Most of our questioning is focused on serving our goals and purpose, not helping the customer.

    And customers are smart, they recognize what we are doing, partly because every other sales person is doing the same thing. And customers don’t care about our goals and purpose, they care about their own.

    What are the questions most important to the customer? What are the one’s they most care about? What are the one’s that challenge them to think differently, to learn, to question their assumptions?

    Even if they don’t know the answers to the questions—which is probably the case—these are the questions that are most important to them. And if they don’t have the answers, they will engage you in helping them discover the answers.

    The questions that customers care about and want to discuss includes questions about what they are trying to do and why? Questions about what others are doing and how it impacts them? Questions about what would cause them to be more successful and the things that may be standing in the way of their success. Questions about how they feel about the change, what it means to them, how they feel about the risks?

    The questions they care most about are about the things they don’t know they don’t know. Without first learning what they might be, understanding why they are important, and learning how they might determine the answers, they are likely to be blindsided.

    The questions customers care most about are about the things they don’t know they don’t know.

    Questions about how they will reach consensus and what that means. Moving them from their individuals goals to aligning around a group goal. Then questions to understand what how achieving that common goal impacts each of them.

    The questions they care about are the things that help them. And through discovering the answers, they and we learn how we can best continue to help them.

    When ask all the wrong questions, and we deserve the answers we get.

    When we help the customer discover, then answer the right questions, then we and they have earned the answers we discover.

    Article originally published on Apr 20, 2022 on Partners in Excellence's Blog
    Dave Brock
    Published May 1, 2022
    By Dave Brock

    Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.

    Find out more about Dave Brock on LinkedIn