That’s a good question

What to ask instead of just blabbing to prospects about the greatness of your product or service
Selling Solutions by Larry Lewis

You frequently mention that you should avoid telling prospects about the features and benefits of your product or service and focus instead on asking the right questions. Can you tell me what types of questions to ask early in the selling process?

I am frequently asked by clients to spell out the questions they should be comfortable asking on a sales call. This is a dangerous task, because it presupposes that every prospect is the same and every sales call is going to go perfectly.

Good salespeople have a system for selling that encompasses a specific strategy and set of tactics designed to further that strategy. However, the manner in which that system is implemented is more of an art than a science.

Most entry-level salespeople are taught a set of scripted or canned closes. While they are easy to learn, they are often ineffective. Effective selling strategies and tactics are more difficult to learn, but they are far more powerful than canned scripts and closes.

Remember also that how you ask is often more important than what you ask. Questions by themselves can be abrasive. Make sure you sprinkle your questions with plenty of nurturing statements and have an empathetic tone in your voice.

With these precautions in mind, here are 24 fundamental questions which you need to be comfortable asking during the early stages of the sales process to begin to master the art of selling. The questions are part of what I call “Lewis’ Essential 44” — the 44 fundamental questions you need to consider asking.

The initial phone call

1) Does my name or company sound familiar? (To be used when making a sales call to get the prospect to disengage from what he or she was doing before you called.)

2) I know you weren’t waiting for my call and you’re very busy, but if you will give me 30 seconds, I can tell you why I am calling and you can decide whether we should continue this conversation. Will you give me 30 seconds? (To gain permission from the prospect on a cold call before delivering your 30-second commercial.)

3) I am a (fill in the blank) specializing in (fill in the blank). Typically I work with successful (fill in the blank) just like you, who are basically very happy with (blank), but they are frustrated or concerned that (blank, blank or blank). I don’t suppose you share any of those concerns?

This is your 30-second commercial, designed to describe what you do in terms of the problems you solve to determine if you can do anything for the prospect.

4) And you’ve never had a problem with (fill in the blank)?

5) Nobody is perfect, not even us. If there was one area in which you would like to improve on your current situation, what would it be?

6) Would it make sense for you to invite me in to talk with you about these issues in greater detail to see if I can help you in these areas? (To get the appointment.)

Setting expectations

7) How much time have you set aside for our meeting?

8) What would you like to accomplish during our time together?

9) Would it be okay if I asked you some questions first?

10) If, in the course of our meeting, you don’t see a fit between what you need and what I offer, would you be willing to tell me “no?”

Uncover pain and create a sense of urgency

11) Why am I here? What caused you to invite me in?

12) Tell me more about that …

13) Can you be a bit more specific? Can you give me an example?

14) How often does this happen?

15) How long has it been a problem?

16) What have you tried to do about this?

17) Did that work?

18) What impact is this having on your company?

19) How does this affect you personally?

20) How does this make you feel?

21) What were you hoping I could do?

22) Is there anything else you would like to tell me about these problems?

23) How important are these issues?

Are you really committed to fixing these problems?

Next month, Larry Lewis will address the remainder of the 46 questions. Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send your comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or see his Web site at totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.