Asking questions is a core element in the sales process. The sales rep must uncover the prospect’s needs and do so in a manner that leads the prospect to understand that those needs exist and that the sales rep has a solution. The way questions are asked can create an adversarial climate or a collaborative relationship-building partnership.

Preparing for a Sales Call

Before an interview occurs, the sales rep needs to have a clear understanding of what information he needs and what questions to ask to extract it from the prospect. While the questions do not need to be written, they do need to be firmly established in the rep’s mind. The rep also needs to be comfortable asking questions as well as responding to those that the prospect may ask. Practice and role-playing with colleagues is invaluable. With practice, a sales call can be effective, both in helping the rep to learn the prospect’s needs and in building a partnership relationship.

Questioning Strategy

Once the rep has determined what information is desired, he needs to plan the questioning process. Questions should begin with broad issues to allow the prospect to talk freely. In this manner the rep may uncover needs that were not identified previously. Questions should focus on determining the prospect’s dominant buying motive. The rep needs to be mindful that some questions may be perceived as insensitive. For example, the question, “You wouldn’t want your widow to be penniless, would you?” taps into an emotion, but it appears leading and self-serving on the part of the rep.

Engaging the Prospect

Open-ended questions are a natural way to get a prospect, even a recalcitrant one, to talk. “Tell me about...” or “Explain how...” allow the prospect to freely describe how her business works and what issues may be troubling. Closed-ended questions have a role in confirming specifics but are not likely to shed light on what a prospect’s real needs are. “How many employees do you have?” will elicit a number but no more. Too many closed-ended questions will make a conversation seem like an interrogation.

Reverse Questions

When a prospect is seriously evaluating whether to buy a product or service she is likely to ask questions or make statements revealing her mindset. This presents an opportunity for a sales rep to confirm the thought without being perceived as manipulating. When the prospect inquires, “Does it come in red?” the sales rep should not answer “Yes.” Instead, he should ask, “Would you like it in red?” And when the prospect says, “You’ve made a very nice presentation?” the response is not “Thank you.” The rep should reply, “So you liked the presentation?” Responding in this manner gets the prospect to confirm her thought and adds one more closing signal to the sales process.