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To succeed at selling: Questions and probes

Posted by 104Inc.com on October 20, 2008

Seeks information to understand situations, needs, and desired potential benefits.

To succeed at selling, you need to sell to customers’ needs. How do you find out about these needs? Research the industries your customers are in. Then confirm the information you gather by asking questions. Studies show that asking questions is the most powerful way to persuade.

 

 

1. Do your homework.
Know as much as possible about your customer’s industry, the products and services they provide, the challenges they face, and the business needs they’re striving to achieve–before you walk in the door. Locate this information through:

 

 

  • Online or offline databases
  • The Internet or your company’s intranet.
  • Newspapers, magazines, journals, trade publications, annual reports, and other sources of business data.
  • Business directories.
  • Professional organizations.
  • People within the organization who report to the customer. These “gatekeepers” can include receptionists, assistants, or junior people from associated departments.

Think about the information that will help you learn more about your customer’s situation and needs. For example:

  • What is the customer’s buying criteria? (Criteria might include service, price, and quality.)
  • Is there a problem or concern that needs to be addressed? How critical is it? In which area(s) does it have the biggest effect?
  • What are the customer’s time frames for making a purchasing decision?
  • Is the customer considering any of your competitors? Which ones? Why?

Anticipate problems your customer might be experiencing. Before you meet with the customer, identify how your products and services can solve those problems.
2. Ask questions.
Ask questions to clarify the customer’s situation and needs. There are four types of questions that are critical.
 
 
 
Basic Fact Questions. The answers to these questions reveal specific information about the buyer and his or her business.

Examples:

  • How many operations like this does your organization have around the world?
  • How many people are employed at this plant?
  • What are your plans for growth over the next five years?

By doing your homework, you can answer many basic fact questions. Be selective about the number of these questions you ask customers. People are busy and, in many cases, don’t have time to educate you on the basic facts about their business. Seek only clarification of information that is not obvious or readily understood.

Problem Questions. These questions surface problems that the customer is experiencing. Their purpose is to help you:

  • Better understand the customer’s concerns or dissatisfaction with the current product or service.
  • Identify how your products and services might solve the problem.

Examples:

  • What problems are you experiencing with your present system?
  • Why do you think the process is so inefficient?
  • What quality or reliability problems are you experiencing?

Consequence Questions. Often, asking problem questions will get the customer interested in your product or service. Sometimes, however, you need to increase the size of the problem in the customer’s mind to promote interest. Asking about the consequences of problems “builds the pain” of the customer’s current situation.

Examples:

  • How will the problems you’re experiencing with your present system affect productivity?
  • To what extent do your process inefficiencies translate into opportunities for your competition?
  • What kind of turnover or training costs are you incurring because of your situation?

Asking hypothetical questions drives home the need for a solution–especially in the minds of your customers. If they didn’t recognize the extent to which a problem could damage individuals or the organization, they will now.

Benefit Questions. These questions surface the usefulness or benefit of implementing your product or service. By asking questions that let customers tell you the value of your solution, you ultimately allow them to convince themselves of the need for your product or service.

Examples:

  • How would it help to have online diagnostics?
  • What advantages would you gain from a software package that requires very little training to use effectively?
  • Is there any other benefit of eliminating this problem?

The key to successful sales calls is preparation. When planning your next sales call, write down questions that you need to ask your customer. Consider each category–basic fact, problem, consequence, and benefit–and plan your call around asking those types of questions.

 

Keep in mind that when making a purchasing decision, a customer must answer the question, “Is the problem big enough to justify this solution?” Therefore, you must ask several problem and consequence questions. This will raise awareness in the customer’s mind that the current situation and needs are serious enough to warrant buying your solution.

 

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2 Responses to “To succeed at selling: Questions and probes”

  1. Well said Great information, keep up the great work!

  2. […] To succeed at selling: Questions and probes […]

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