The question-answer game in sales is vital to not only finding, qualifying, and closing deals, but offering the best possible solutions to your prospects and customers. The key in asking the right questions is to keep them open-ended. Questions you ask your prospect should begin with the words who, what, why, when, where and how.
Statements that begin with "tell me about" or "please describe" work well in allowing the prospect to describe in detail his or her needs in regards to the solutions you provide. Try to limit questions that begin with are you, do you, will you, would you, could you, should you, etc. as they are close-ended in nature and encourage yes or no answers from your prospect.
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason; rather than you doing most of the talking, you want your prospect to do most of the talking during your initial meeting. Asking open-ended questions will allow that to happen naturally. After the initial rapport-building portion of the meeting, ask some of these open-ended questions to learn as much as possible about the challenge your prospect is having, engage in a conversation, and ultimately understand what solution you can provide to best solve their problem. For example:
- Please describe the challenge you're having now.
- How does this challenge affect your overall business strategy?
- Who is affected the most by the challenge you are experiencing? (Customers? Internal employees or departments?)
- How are they affected?
- What will happen if you don't solve this problem?
The best way to start the conversation is to use the "tell me about" or "please describe" phrases since they are the most open of all the questions and statements provided above. Also, the question, "What is it you're trying to accomplish?" is a great question to ask because it allows the prospect to get right to the heart of the matter and describe how the ideal solution that you might provide will impact their bottom line. Sometimes, by beginning the conversation this way, it is unnecessary to go on with the rest of your line of questioning.
By allowing your prospect to answer open-ended questions, you do three things. First, you will ensure the prospect is able to tell you in his own words the challenge he is having, allowing him to focus on the key points that are important to him. Second, you will begin to understand the solution you will need to provide. Third, you allow the rapport-building process to happen naturally by engaging the prospect in conversation.
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