If you've done your pre-call prep work, you probably put together a list of sales questions to ask your prospect an hour or two before your appointment. That's good -- preparation is an important key to success in sales. 

However, there's also a downside to using questions prepared in advance on a sales call. Not sure what I mean? Here's an example.

Salesperson: Can you tell me about your production process?

Buyer: Sure thing. Well, we take Step A first, then Step B, and Step C. But it wasn't always that way -- the entire routine has undergone a major change since Mary took over the team. I wonder if that's the best way to do things ... but that's a story for another day.

Salesperson: Oh, great. Um ... What technology do you use during Step A?

Yikes. The buyer provided a perfect opening for the rep, but because the salesperson was so focused on his prepared questions, he completely missed it.

Sometimes reps can be so worried about getting through all the questions on their list that they fail to truly listen to their prospects. By tuning into what the buyer is telling you -- and the unspoken cues that signal they're holding back -- salespeople can adroitly pivot their approach to get to pain faster and better understand the situation.

When you sense there's more to discover in a particular area, set your questions aside for a moment and unleash one of these six follow-up questions. 

1) "Why is that?"

Salespeople love it when buyers are forthcoming about the issues they're facing. But not so fast -- are these issues really problems? Or are they symptoms of a totally separate root cause? To get to the true source of the pain, ask your buyer to reflect on why the issue is happening. They could be right or wrong about the cause, but their answer will reveal their current understanding of the scenario as well as the larger implications for the company.

2) "So what you're saying is ... ?"

According to sales trainer Melanie Lane, one of the most powerful things a salesperson can do is rephrase their buyer's words. This not only helps to prevent misunderstandings, it also prompts the prospect to explain further. In addition, paraphrasing indicates you're fully tuned in to the conversation.

3) "And what does that mean for you/the business?"

Sure, a problem might be annoying. But until the salesperson understands how it impacts the prospect or the company, they won't be able to get a grip on its importance. Prompting a buyer to talk about the implications of an issue can also solidify pain in their mind, inspiring them to pursue a solution sooner rather than later.

4) "Is that like what you said earlier about X?"

Drawing connections between the prospect's comments signifies your active interest, in addition to helping you more fully understand the problem at hand. Strive to get as complete a picture of the issue as possible by tying together loose strands and fitting all the pieces together.

5) "[The same question stated slightly differently?]"

If a buyer doesn't answer your question completely, don't be afraid to rephrase and re-ask. The worst thing you can do is pretend you understood and move to a different topic. Keep in mind that you can't help the prospect if you can't grasp their needs. Therefore, acting like you're on the same page when you really aren't is a waste of both parties' time. 

6) "Oh?"

The simplest question on this list can also be the most impactful. If it's clear that the prospect is holding something back and just needs a bit more prompting to spill their true feelings, a simple "Oh?" can do the trick. Asking another question might break the buyer's train of thought, but "Oh?" keeps the flow going and the buyer talking.

On your next sales call, adopt the mindset of a journalist. Instead of sticking religiously to your list of questions, listen for openings and pursue them. Allow the conversation to take an turn if it helps you get a better handle on the buyer's business needs. By getting up to speed faster, you'll be able to provide help faster. Win-win.

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Originally published Sep 30, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated October 30 2019

Topics:

Sales Qualification