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The other night on TV, I saw an ESPN special on the Football Hall of Fame. Just before the final commercial break, the announcer said something like, "When we get back, you'll have a chance to learn what we asked these Hall-of-Famers."
Then they showed clip after clip of the most famous football players ever, all shaking their heads saying things like, "Wow, that's a tough one" and "I don't have a clue." Of course, I stayed glued to the television to find out the question that elicited these incredulous responses. When the show returned, the announcer posed the question:
"If you were the captain of a football team composed only of Hall-of-Famers, who would be the first person you would pick to be on your team?"
What a great question! Every single person had to really think before they answered it. Did they want an offensive or a defensive player? Someone they'd played with or against? Perhaps even a player from an entirely different era? What qualities would they want in that first pick?
Great questions are like that. They're provocative, forcing you to look beyond the obvious, to analyze, assess and make decisions.
In selling, your ability to ask great questions is highly correlated with sales success. Great questions demonstrate your expertise and enhance your credibility. And, the best questions you can ask are highly provocative - ones your prospects can't possibly answer without seriously considering their business situation.
So how do you come up with provocative questions? First of all, it's virtually impossible to come up with them when you're in the midst of a sales call. Too many other things are going on.
Provocative questions require pre-planning and a significant investment of your time before you meet with prospective customers. To develop them, you need an in-depth understanding of your own offering from a customer's perspective.
Here's what you need to consider before developing your questions.
Having a cursory understanding of your offering isn't enough. You need to "know" it at a much deeper level - and truly understand it from your customer's perspective. It's only when you've conducted this exercise that you can begin to develop provocative questions.
You see, most customers are living with a less-than-perfect system. They know it has its drawbacks but they've learned how to work around things and get by. Besides, they're much too busy to analyze every aggravation or potential problem.
Most customers have NO IDEA about the total cost of continuing to do things the "same old way." When you ask questions about the business implications or the value of change, they're provocative! They get your prospect thinking about why change is necessary - and why it's needed now.
And better yet, these provocative questions create a reason to do business with you today not in the distant future. Plus, they demonstrate your knowledge and expertise - making you an invaluable resource to your customer.
To ask provocative questions, it also helps to frame them with your knowledge of your customer's business, industry, or market trends.
For example, I work with many companies on new product launches, specifically in the hand-off of the new product from Marketing to Sales. My prospects frequently have had less-than-stellar results on previous product/service introductions.
I frame my questions with statements such as:
Then I ask questions such as:
Provocative questions are related to the problems you can solve and their resulting business ramifications. They're focused on critical issues facing your customer and framed with your own personal knowledge and expertise. They always get your customer thinking and they move the sale forward.
So, let me ask you a question:
Why is it that most sellers say they know it's important to ask questions on sales calls, but few take the time to plan really great, provocative ones?
Investing time developing provocative questions will have an immediate impact on your sales results. Are you willing to do what it takes to excel?
P.S. In case you're interested - Johnny Unitas was selected most often as the number one pick by the Hall-of-Famers.
Jill Konrath helps salespeople get their foot in the door and win big contracts in the corporate market. Sign up for her free e-newsletter by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . You get a free "Sales Call Planning Guide" ($19.95 value) when you subscribe.Contact Jill Konrath at (651) 429-1922 or visit www.SellingtoBigCompanies.com
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