The Art Of Selling: Ask the Right Questions

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Jerry Montgomery

My favorite sales cliché is, “Selling is not telling,” meaning, “Don’t talk too much.” Your goal in selling is getting the customer to talk. The way to accomplish this is by asking questions that require long responses. These questions are called open-ended questions, and they are the ones that cannot be answered with a yes or no. They start with what, where, when, why, who and how.

Here’s the formula: CT75 + ST25 = a successful sales call. In this equation, the customer talks 75 percent of the time, and the seller talks 25 percent of the time. When the seller is talking, most of the conversation should revolve around asking open-ended questions. The seller talks more during the product presentation and in the closing.

Questions That Uncover Customer Needs

Asking a lot of good questions helps uncover customer issues and problems. Uncovering the core issues will help the seller suggest the right solutions.

Learning to be a good interviewer allows you to uncover a lot of necessary information. For instance, you want find out:

• Who is the incumbent competitor for this product line?
• What does the client like and dislike about their current supplier?
• Who is the decision maker?
• Who influences the decision making process?
• What problems does the client need to solve?
• How you can make the client more competitive?
• How you can save the client time and money?

Asking the right questions is arguably the most important part of the sales process, so developing a great technique is crucial to becoming a high-performance seller. Many sellers just don’t understand how powerful good questioning skills can be in uncovering customer problems and business issues that need solutions. Many sellers are so interested in their needs they never uncover the customer needs and wants.

If a seller wants to develop a close-knit business relationship with her customers, nothing shows a more sincere interest than asking compelling questions that lead to a better understanding of the customer. Many sales programs focus on asking for the order, but if you don’t know what to sell, you may be asking for the wrong order.

Get to know and understand the questioning techniques illustrated above. Then sit down with your customers, ask the questions and take notes. You will get to know more about the customer than ever before — certainly more than the competition. Just remember, “Selling is not telling.”

Jerry Montgomery (mrplug@cfl.rr.com) is a veteran of the floriculture industry who has worked for distributor companies, breeders and large growers with a focus on sales and marketing. As an industry consultant, Montgomery works for large growers, distributors and breeder/producers. His focus is to understand the market dynamics from breeder to consumer through intense retail travel, visiting about 2,700 stores since 2008.

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