Asking good questions and listening effectively trumps a sales presentation every time. How to succeed in selling through questioning and listening skills.
Guest Article - December 2007
Contrary to popular belief, to be a successful salesperson, it doesn't matter how much you know about your product or service. It also doesn't matter how much of an industry expert you are. It doesn't even matter how great your mother thinks you are. The only thing that really matters to be successful in selling is your ability to shut-up and listen.
On numerous occasions, everyone in sales has heard how important it is to get the customer talking, so it's imperative that they have an arsenal of great questions to ask. Despite trying to follow this guideline, every salesperson seems to overstate the amount of time they believe they allow the customer to talk. The many interviews I've conducted over the years with customers and salespeople alike confirm this reality. Therefore, salespeople need to take a step back and consider their sales presentation.
To talk less means you have to ask questions that truly engage the customer. However, this doesn't mean you need to develop complex questions. Instead, the best tactic is to ask shorter ones. Long questions tend to result in short answers, while short questions will generally result in long answers. An example of a great short question is, "Why?" In my opinion, there isn't a better follow-up question you can ask after the customer has shared with you some information. Consider how your customers would respond to other short examples like, "Can you elaborate on that?" and "Could you explain more?" These shorter questions elicit detailed responses and that's just what you want. On the other hand, asking complex questions often tends to perplex customers. Because they are not sure what you are looking for, they respond with the universal answer representing total confusion, "What did you say?" Questions should not be your means of showing your customers that you are an expert. Save that for your statements.
When preparing your sales presentation, a guideline I subscribe to is to limit yourself from talking for more than 20 seconds at a time without asking a question. The question you ask should be one directed at the comments you just made. By doing so, you're checking with the customer to see if they understood what you just shared with them. Again, this is something many salespeople overlook. They get caught up in sharing with the customer their expertise and the features of their product or service and forget all about what the customer is thinking. Even if your product or service requires a complex presentation, you should still follow this rule. Whether you're selling software, high value medical equipment, or technical tools, it's essential to check your clients understanding by asking a question every 20 seconds.
Your goal on any sales call is to talk only 20% of the time. To help ensure that this takes place, you have to plan ahead. Before you start developing your sales presentation, create your list of questions. This is contrary to the pattern of most salespeople who often spend a substantial portion of their time developing their presentation and, at the last minute, develop their list of questions. Consider that if you're expecting to have a 20 minute presentation, you should have 40 questions (2 questions per minute). Even though you may not use all 40, you'll definitely be more prepared. In addition, you'll be able to pick and choose which ones you want to ask. If you're following the rule of asking short questions, you'll ensure that the customer is doing most of the talking. You'll learn valuable information that will help you better understand the customer's needs.
If you want to move your questioning process to the next level, make half of the questions you ask be ones that help the customer see and feel the pain they have. By doing so, they will be much more open to receiving your solution. For example, if you're selling computer back-up systems, you might ask, "Can you explain to me what happens when data is lost?" This short, concise question is designed to get the customer thinking about the risks they face. Furthermore, the beauty of this type of question is that no matter what the customer's response is, some good follow-up questions will naturally arise.
By adhering to these guidelines, you will be able to see dramatic results in the number of sales you are able to close. As simple as it sounds, the more you shut up, the more you'll sell. And, the easiest way to achieve this goal is by asking more, short questions. So, shut up and sell!
Article by Mark Hunter, http://www.TheSalesHunter.com
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