At all sales training sessions, coaches use the mantra: “Ask questions, ideally open questions.” Using this principle, and being a young salesperson myself, I’ve asked customers a lot of questions, and I haven’t sold much. Now I know where I made a mistake. And that’s why I decided to write this article.

I used to think that questions are just the beginning of the sales process. Now I know that they’re the second-to-last element of the sales process, and the last on the part of the salesperson.

First you have to answer three key questions:

- What should I know about the client?

- What will I do when I know? - How can I use this information in further conversation?

Answering these questions allows you, as the seller, to learn the most important thing – the customer’s intentions. In other words, before you ask the customer a question, you should know why you’re asking. If you don’t have a reason, the answer will be worthless. It is as if you wanted to demolish a wall - you’ve gathered the tools because someone told you that you should have them, and now you would wonder what they’re for. You may have something, but the wall’s still standing. So what are the tools worth? Nothing. That is, unless you figure it out as you start to use them. Then their value changes. It’s the same with the knowledge and information you receive from the customer in any sales conversation.

Toilet paper is more interesting

In my first job at a big company I had a real problem with sales. I met with customers and talked about our products, but it really didn’t go my way. My colleagues were selling, but I wasn’t. In the end I got a coach to help me. He said that I should learn to strictly follow a sale script, asking the questions on the script one-by-one. Then I would start selling for sure. That’s what I started to do. I met with a customer who, as it much later turned out, gave me one of the most valuable lessons of my life. During the conversation I did exactly as the coach instructed - I asked question after scripted question. At some point the customer stopped me: “Simon, am I right that we’re going to touch on topic X, and then Y?” Confused, I said: “Yes, and how do you know...?” I heard the magic words: “You know, toilet paper is less predictable than this conversation.” I sat there, not knowing what to do. After a while, the customer completed the thought: “If you want to sell well, you’ll have to learn to listen and pick out what’s most important from what the client says." I thanked him and we ended the meeting.

You have everything you need

Recently I discovered yet another remarkable thing. It turns out that the customer will provide you with all the information they need to be able to buy something from you. I should emphasize: “To buy something from YOU!” People really don’t like to be sold things. But all of us, without exception, love to buy things. And it is worth remembering one simple rule - when asked about something, you must answer. Always. Often even the stupidest questions are answered. Even a simple ‘I don’t know’ provides certain information. The final conclusion is as follows: A properly-asked question, based on the salesperson’s awareness of the situation (what I want to know and why I need this information) gives you the opportunity to obtain all information necessary for the customer to make a purchasing decision. And now the most interesting part: the fact that the customer will provide you with this information is one thing. The second important thing is that the customer provides it to themselves.

Every salesperson’s job is to ask the customer questions which will lead them to discover their own motives. That’s especially true when you want to meet a potential client. It’s a little easier when the customer comes to you. However, the fact that they came to you doesn’t mean they’re going to buy something. They can leave at any moment and go for the competition. Remember - the customer themselves is the only real source of sales information and arguments! They’ll provide you with everything you need. You just have to ask.

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