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You may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t I get the follow-up meeting with that recent prospect?” You asked all the right questions and got the answers you needed to qualify them. You had their budget, knew their goals and needs, and their time frame to make the decision. You knew who the decision-maker was, were keenly aware of your competitors in play and felt that you had the perfect solution to meet their needs.

So why didn’t it work out?

Unfortunately, this happens to many sales professionals, yet only one will earn the customer’s business. While you may be asking good questions, you may not be asking the right questions. You want to ask the type of questions that make the customer take notice of who you are and what you have to offer. What makes them pay attention to you? What are the questions that get the customer to say, “Tell me more.”

Customers get bored when you ask the basic surface questions. These are the questions that you need to have answered to better understand the customer’s situation so your solution can be positioned to meet the customer’s needs. Customers already know their situation. They want to know what makes you different from the pack, and how you can help them in a way that provides value no one else can deliver. And remember, the last thing your prospects want on a first appointment is a presentation! This meeting is not about you and what you offer. It should be all about your customer and how you can help them meet and exceed their needs and achieve their goals and objectives. Customers want the conversation to be all about them. In other words, let them talk — you should be listening.

What questions you should ask? Customers engage best when they are asked specific and targeted questions that pique their interest and highlight the consequences of unsolved issues. There are three critical types of questions you need to ask to build momentum and ensure that you get the next meeting.

What are the issues?

To build the critical trusting relationship, you need to understand what’s really going on. Ask them, “What issues are you facing that most need to be resolved?” Do not start by asking what type of solution they are looking for or how much they will spend. Aim to learn where they are experiencing pain, how bad is the pain and how long has it been going on. The best sales people dig deep when it comes to understanding customer issues. You can further understand the pain by asking “why” questions. When you ask “why,” you’re bringing the customer into the past which allows them to elaborate on what happened in the first place.

What is the cause?

Ask them, “How long have you been having this issue? Is it getting better or worse? Do you have any thoughts on why?” These probing questions will demonstrate that you are truly interested in understanding their situation to the fullest extent. It means you are building credibility with the customer and showing them you care. This approach takes the conversation to a better level of understanding and often they will even discover something they hadn’t seen before. Helping your customers understand the cause of their issue helps you understand which solutions to offer and helps them think through the situation.

When the customer sees the impact of their issues in multiple areas, we can start to craft a viable solution.
What is the impact?

Impact questions help to create a sense of urgency about the issue. Now that you more fully understand the problem and how it was caused, it’s time to talk about the possible impact on the business. Ask them, “How do you think this issue is having an impact on productivity, customer service, revenues or operating expenses?” When you can help them understand the impact, they are one step closer to taking action in your direction. When the customer sees the impact of their issues in multiple areas, we can start to craft a viable solution. You can start to help them see the future in a positive light by asking “what” questions. “What” questions focus on the possibilities. Now you can work with customer as a partner because you have a solid understanding of their issues, how they came about and how they are impacting the business.

Good selling is all about going below the surface by asking thoughtful, probing questions that help to uncover the key issues, the root causes and finally the impact their most painful issues can have on their business. As the saying goes, “If you ask better questions, you’ll get better answers.” The best sales professionals have great skill in asking the more significant thought-provoking questions that make a difference in the customer dialogue.

The author is a sales expert and accomplished speaker.