Your Most Powerful Sales Tool

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Dave Kahle, President, The DaCo Corporation.

Did you enjoy what you had for dinner last night?

You are probably wondering what that question has to do with sales. Bear with me a moment, and answer the question.

Now, take a pause and think about what you did when you read that question. Your mind probably flashed back to yesterday evening, and you saw a picture in your mind’s eye of what you had for dinner. Then you recalled your response to the dinner, and made a judgment that you did or didn’t enjoy it.

Here’s the point. I was able to direct your thinking by asking you a question. You thought about what I wanted you to think about, and you thought about it in the way I wanted. That’s an illustration of the power of a question. It directs an individual’s thinking.

That’s what makes asking a good question the single most effective thing you can do with a customer. A well-phrased, appropriately-timed question is your most powerful sales tool.

Here’s what good questions will do for you:

1. Good questions direct your customer’s thinking.

When you use a good question, or a series of good questions, you penetrate your prospect’s mind and direct his/her thinking.

There is something in human beings that makes it almost impossible not to think of the answer when we are asked a question. I’m not sure whether it’s something genetic, or whether we’re conditioned from birth to always think of the answer to a question. Here’s an illustration. I’ll ask you a question, but I want you to not think of the answer. How old are you? If you’re like most of us, you thought of the answer, even after I indicated you shouldn’t.

Now, consider where the decision to buy your products or services takes place. It happens in the mind of your customer. A good question from you helps focus and shape the direction in which your customer’s mind works.

For example, suppose you’re shopping for a new car. The salesperson asks you, “Which is more important to you, good fuel economy, or quick pickup?” Until asked, you haven’t really thought of it that way. The salesperson’s question helps you understand what you really think, and directs your mind along a certain course. You’re thinking along that line, the conversation naturally proceeds based on the answer.

Similarly, you perform a service for your customers when you ask them good questions. Your questions direct their minds along certain paths, and help them clarify their thinking.

2. A good question is your best means of collecting the information that will help you construct a sale.

How do you know what a customer thinks, or what his or her situation is, unless you ask a question? If you’re selling a new surgical glove, for example, you first ask questions to discover the surgeon’s concerns so that you are able to point out the specific features of the glove that meet those needs. Without first asking questions, you’re reduced to working on assumptions about the needs and interests of your customers.

You will do a far better job of selling your products and services if you first use good questions to understand your customer’s needs and interests. Good questions help you to see into the mind and heart of your customers, and equip you with the knowledge necessary to make the sale.

3. Good questions build relationships.

The act of asking good questions shows that you care about the person and his/her problems. The more questions you ask about your customer, the more he/she feels your interest.

The law of reciprocity indicates that the more interest you show in a customer, the more likely that customer will be interested in you.

Did you ever attend a reception or cocktail party, and meet someone who was very interested in you? Asked you question after question about yourself? When you parted, you thought to yourself, “What a great person.” Why did you think that? Because of what he/she said? Probably not. You thought the person was wonderful because he/she expressed interest in you! And you formed that impression because of the questions they asked of you.

You can make use of this principle by asking good personal questions of your customers and thereby building strong relationships.

4. Good questions convey the perception of your competence.

In other words, your customer sees you as competent and trustworthy — not necessarily by what you say, but rather by what you ask.

Here’s an illustration. Suppose you have a problem with your car. You take it into the mechanic down the street and say to him, “My car is making a funny sound.” He says to you, “OK, leave it here and pick it up at five.”

You’re not reassured by his approach, so you take it to the mechanic across the street. You say the same thing to him. And he says to you, “What kind of sound?” You reply, “A strange thumping sound.” And he says “Is it coming from the front or the back of the car?” And you say, “It’s coming from the front.” And he asks, “Is it a metallic kind of sound or a rubber kind of sound?” You reply, “It’s definitely metallic.” And he says,”Does it go faster when you go faster and slower when you go slower, or is it the same speed all the time?” You respond, “It definitely speeds up as I do.” Then he says, “OK, leave it here and pick it up at five.”

Which mechanic seems to be the more competent? That’s easy. Obviously, the one who asked more questions.

Got the idea? The focus and precision of your questions does more to give your customer the perception of your competence than anything else.

Every one of your customers wants to feel that the sales person he/she is dealing with is competent. You convey that perception by asking good questions about the details of your customers’ needs and applications.

Mastering the use of good questions is the salesperson’s single most powerful interpersonal tool. Using it in every aspect of your sales interactions will dramatically improve your results.

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