3 Powerful Sales Questions to Uncover Customer Needs

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Fergal Glynn
Fergal Glynn



In 2012, Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman penned an article for Harvard Business Review that explores the notion that most companies know their needs and are capable of determining solutions for themselves, thereby shaking up traditional sales strategies and methods.

questions to uncover prospects' needs in the sales process: image shows dog digging a hole

Their assertion was based on a Corporate Executive Board study that investigated nearly 1,500 B2B customers and found that they had completed “on average, nearly 60% of a typical purchasing decision -- researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, benchmarking prices, and so on -- before even having a conversation with a supplier.”

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This was devastating news for traditional solution sales reps but supported what high-performing, savvy sales professionals already were doing differently: engaging customers “well before customers fully understand their own needs.”

While the sales landscape has changed because of content marketing and the fact that the majority of enterprise customers research products and services prior to making contact with sales professionals, the value of a sales pro’s knowledge has not changed.

Truly, no one is better equipped to interact with potential buyers than a sales professional, and the best salespeople know exactly which questions to ask in order to uncover customer needs and to coach them through a sale. Here, we share three of the most powerful questions sales professionals can ask to determine customer needs earlier and close more deals.

1) What Is the Customer’s Propensity to Change?

This powerful sales question follows the strategy, as analyzed by the Harvard Business Review article, of avoiding the trap of established demand.

Any time a sales professional can determine a customer’s potential to change, he has a better idea of the customer’s willingness to challenge the status quo. This leads the sales rep to emphasize the customer’s potential to change, rather than her potential to buy, so he essentially can “get in early and advance a disruptive solution because they target accounts where demand is emerging, not established -- accounts that are primed for change but haven’t yet generated the necessary consensus, let alone settled on a course of action.”

The customers who are looking for a change and who are open to change present golden opportunities to sales reps.

2) Follow-Up Questions That Are As Specific As Possible

No, we don’t have one powerful question here. Rather, we have a set of guidelines for you to follow to frame powerful follow-up questions to help you uncover customer needs as you meet with potential buyers.

One of the most important parts of asking questions is actually listening to the answers customers and potential customers give. When a prospect says something like, “We are looking for a product with user-friendly features,” you need to respond with follow-up questions to get at the heart of their needs.

For example, you could ask them any or all of these follow-up questions:

  • What does that look like to you?
  • User-friendly for which specific users?
  • Do you have an example of that?
  • What are some non-user-friendly features that you’ve come across?

Without making potential buyers feel like you’re quizzing them, you need to get them to be as specific as possible about their needs by asking targeted follow-up questions.

3) What Prompted You to Look Into Our Product?

This powerful sales question is more complex than simply asking, “What are your needs?” To answer this question, a potential buyer may consider present needs and challenges or the desire to change or any number of reasons. The answer often gives insight not only into their motivation but their timeline, as they may reveal that they have a large problem that needs to be addressed immediately or in the very near future.

Savvy sales professionals should analyze the answer to this question carefully because the prospect most likely will do some reflecting in order to answer. Sales professionals also want to be armed with quality follow-up questions to this answer.

If your enterprise salespeople do not have the time to ask potential buyers these powerful sales questions, they will not meet your revenue targets. Docurated’s State of Sales Productivity Report found that reps spend only 32% of their time selling, with the remainder of their time spent on admin tasks like updating CRM and looking for content to include in a sales presentation.

Having technology, like the Docurated Sales Enablement App, for instance, can increase your enterprise sales reps’ productivity because it provides sales leaders with top evidence-based content recommendations for each sales situation. The app makes it even easier to close the deal after sales professionals have asked the right sales questions because it saves them so much time and guides them to the right content at the right time to win more deals.

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