When I started out in sales I was taught that there are in excess of 10 different types of question. Each type, when used at the appropriate time, would increase my sales closure rate! I studied hard and yet I struggled to remember the name of each type of question. As for the application, well….the only effect it had was to make my sales approach seem clunky, unnatural and not like me at all.
What was I doing that didn’t work? I was too focused on getting the ‘right’ answer – the answer I wanted to hear and that would lead me in the direction of my next question rather than a real and genuine answer. I was also demonstrating two behaviours that I have since realised are the reason that in general we don’t question as effectively as we could.
I realised that language and thinking has a huge impact on how we ask questions. Many times we prepare our questions carefully to ensure we get the answer (we are looking for); but this blocks out the customer, so that our seemingly open and friendly question is misinterpreted, the customer doesn’t open up, we ask more closed questions, the customer feels interrogated and we fill in the gaps and assume what we don’t know.
It took me a while to learn that there are really only two types of questions worth remembering:
We need open questions to understand the customers’ issues, challenges and needs and the closed ones to confirm that what we’ve heard is really what the customer meant and that there is a shared understanding.
When we are focused on looking for the right answer we become “tell sellers” – and no one likes to be told what to buy. When we listen authentically we are more likely to be perceived as “trusted advisors” and our customers are not just more likely to buy from us, but also to come back again and develop into a long term relationship, as well as a potential source of referrals for other new business.