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The Right Questions

You can’t talk people into buying, but you can listen them into it. Questions are your greatest selling tool.

By Bill Brooks

Advisors often talk their way out of more sales than they listen their way into. They let their focus slip; they start thinking about what they want to have happen instead of what their prospect wants to have happen. Here are 10 tips that will help you ask the right questions and keep your focus where it needs to be—on your prospect.

Tip No. 1: Prepare your questions in advance. While every selling situation is different, certain basic questions generally come up. Here are some examples, with one word of caution—don’t let them sound canned:
• What about the product or service is most important to you?
• Have you seen anything else on the market that you especially like?
• What do you most want to happen as a result of using this product or service?

Tip No. 2: Open the sale with a good question. If you’re calling up a prospect, always ask her, “Is this a good time for you?” If she says yes, follow up with, “To be of service to you, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” If they have the time, people will almost always answer yes.

Tip No. 3: Ask open-ended—and indirect—questions. Unlike close-ended questions, which only call for a yes or no answer, open-ended questions encourage your prospect to tell you how she feels. For example, you may ask something like, “How would you describe your current situation (with or without this product)?” The answer can tell you a great deal—including which product benefits you should emphasize.

Tip No. 4: Ask questions that help uncover needs. You want to do more than get the prospect to talk—you want her to tell you what she needs. Therefore, frame questions that will give you insights into how a prospect perceives her needs. For example, you may ask, “What would your primary use for this product be?”

Tip No. 5: Ask questions that help identify dominant needs. Usually there is one overriding need in the prospect’s mind. You can pinpoint that need by asking the following questions:

  • “What would you most like to change about your present situation?”
  • “What would it mean if you could improve your current situation?”

Tip No. 6: Ask questions that help pinpoint the dominant buying motivations. People generally buy what they need from you once they sense you understand what they really want. You can find out what motivates your buyer—what she wants—by asking what similar products or services she has used in the past. Even if all she gives you is a list, you still learn what she likes, or is familiar with.

Tip No. 7: Avoid asking questions in an insensitive way. This may seem obvious, but when you make assumptions about a prospect, your follow-up questions could sound offensive. So, steer clear of:

  • “Set-up” questions like, “You do want your children to have a fair chance, don’t you?” What is the prospect going to say? “No! Let them tough it out!”
  • Nosy or overly personal questions. It’s also best to avoid subjects like religion, politics and race.
  • A threatening manner, albeit unintentional. So, instead of asking, “How much do you want to spend?” you should ask, “How much had you planned to invest?”

Tip No. 8: Start broad, then move toward specific questions. Broad questions help steer you in the right direction. Your prospect may know, for example, that she wants your product or service. She may not know, though, which product would best suit her. Once your prospect becomes more comfortable with your questions, ask more specific questions, those that will allow your prospect to mentally take ownership of your product or service.

Tip No. 9: Ask easy-to-answer questions. Questions that require knowledge the prospect doesn’t have reinforce her anxiety about committing to a product.

Tip No. 10: Ask—then shut up and listen. The prospect can’t talk while you’re talking. Besides, you can’t learn while you’re talking. Don’t just get quiet and thinkof something to say next. Listen to and analyze every word the prospect says. Remember that you can’t talk people into buying, but you can listen them into it.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Bill Brooks, CEO of The Brooks Group, is the author of 14 books published by John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill and other leading publishers. For more information about sales training, or to contact Brooks, visit, or call 800-633-7762.



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