It was Albert Einstein who said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning”. I don’t think Einstein answered the survey I posted on LinkedIn a while back, but coupled with listening skills, proficiency in questioning techniques is one of the sales professional’s most precious competencies. It helps you earn the right to get time from the customer to learn about his needs and pain.
Questions can be simple, eliciting factual responses, all the while provoking thought processes in the respondent. The questions you ask guide those thought processes:
- “When do you expect this project to start?”
- “How many people will participate?”
Other questions may hunt for explanation or elaboration, prompting the respondent to consider relative values – a good one for Einstein 🙂
- “Why would you start the project in May rather than June?”
- “Why would you fund this project rather than the other one?”
Good questions, well asked, show interest and can uncover a wealth of information. If you can engage your customer in supposition, hypothesis or conjecture, in a controlled manner, you can guide them to a deep understanding of the potential benefits of change:
- “Imagine if you could reduce your customer service response time by a third. How do you suppose that would impact the company?”
A model we teach at The TAS Group is called the Progressive Questioning Control Model. Yes, I know. It slips easily off the tongue. We’ll call it PQCM from here on in.
PQCM helps you to exploit the power of questioning, opening doors for the customer to peek through, uncovering possibilities hitherto unknown, and plotting a path for the customer to explore to discover potential benefit.
- Explore with the customer the problem you propose to solve.
- Determine the impact on his organization of not addressing the task.
- Jointly visualize solutions and their attendant benefits.
- Agree actions to take.
- Plan each sales call or meeting.
PQCM uses three different question types, each applied against the four stages of questioning progress:
- Discover questions should be open and inviting, giving the customer an opportunity to talk, prompting the customer to tell you about areas that are of concern to him.
- Develop questions are used to expand your understanding of the extent of customer’s problem and to guide the customer to areas where your particular solution is strong.
- Control questions show the customer that you have been listening to what he says and that your understanding of his problem and perspective is correct.
Sometimes we get too excited about the product that we have, or the point we’re trying to make that we forget to ask questions. A question unasked invariably means information missed. Structured questioning can illuminate a path to the heart of the issues that are bothering the customer. Before your next meeting why don’t you think about using this model. Determine the information you are looking for, and the progress you want to make, and prepare your questions accordingly.