Have you noticed that the best salespeople are usually subtle?  They have a way of moving through a discussion that is conversational in tone, but focused in purpose.  Some are so good at it that you don’t even notice if you are involved in the discussion.

ManageSmarter.com offers up an article with a direct analogy of sales questioning – comparing it to dating.  What I appreciate is the author’s description of how salespeople are trained to ask leading questions.  This is not a subtle approach as you will see from his example in the article.  The primary issue here is that you lose rapport quickly when you go down this path.

In trying to establish a prospect’s fit with our offering, it’s natural to want to uncover all the details about their situation that can help us make our case. What that often leads to, however, is a stream of questions that focuses only on product areas or applications.

And it’s not just junior sales reps who do this. I once listened to a regional sales manager for a large financial services company grind his prospect into the ground with his questions, each one having been designed to justify the features of his offering. Afterward, he thought he’d done a good job. But judging from the pain that grew in his prospect’s face with each additional question, I think “inquisition” is a much better description.

I sat through some “inquisitions” and it isn’t pretty.  If you have any people-reading ability, you can see the discomfort on the prospect’s face.  Heck, I was uncomfortable and I was with the salesperson.

The author closes with two good points for asking the right question:

1. Find out what their situation is like today—without trying to shape the conversation to fit your offering. Just ask your prospect what’s going on, what’s working, what’s not working, etc. Listen to the answers without trying to make points you’ll use later. Just have a conversation. It works wonders on building trust.
2. Ask where they’d like to be in the future. Ask “What are your big goals?” or “What would a perfect world look like?” Again, don’t frame your question in any way that could be construed as setting up your offering. I realize it takes patience, but spending a few minutes establishing your prospect’s big picture is invaluable.

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