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Anyone who's been exposed to me over the years knows that I advocate questioning, rather than presenting, as a reliable path to sales success. I'll argue that Listening and Questioning are the two most valuable sales skills. You'll notice that "pitching" is intentionally excluded. When we're pitching or presenting, i.e., talking about our firms and ourselves, we aren't listening, and we aren't creating the opportunity to have anything to listen to.

Much has already been written about active listening, etc. However, as we've shown, prospects sometimes don't give us anything to listen to. We can, though, initiate Questioning, so I'll suggest you focus on developing that skill first.

There are two types of sales questions:

  • Rapport Builders, which encourage prospects to know, like and trust us
  • High-Yield, which define and advance the sales opportunity.

All questions are not created equal. Lawyers have much more experience and comfort with Rapport Builders, so we'll emphasize High-Yield questions. They define and advance the sales opportunity by eliciting, from the fewest possible questions, the maximum amount of information and understanding about the prospect's business problems or challenges, and his related self-interest. 

Note the sequence above, "define and advance." Therein lies a major cause of sales failure: Trying to advance a sale before it is defined reliably. Invest most of your effort in identifying a sale that, artfully exposed, is just waiting for the prospect to recognize it and act on it. We can't really make a sale; we can only expose an actual, existing sale through adept questioning.

Here are some practical tips to improve the effectiveness of your sales questions:

  • Phrase questions in a non-threatening way. Instead of a blunt "Why?" ask, "Can you help me understand why you feel that way?" 
  • Keep questions simple and focused. Straightforward questions covering one topic at a time get the best results. Avoid confusing, two-part questions. Save the complexity for briefs.
  • Ask questions that are easy to answer because they're relevant to the prospect's station and circumstances, and his self-interest. 
  • Have a logical structure and order to your questions. Prospects like to be able to see where the questions are headed. Otherwise they may get confused, and may even think you're trying to manipulate them. At the very least, they're distracted trying to figure out where you're going. You won't have their full attention.
  • Vary the structure of your questions, sometimes using declarative preamble as foundation so the other person doesn't feel deposed.
  • Keep it conversational. The art form is not merely asking good questions, but asking them in a way that their form doesn't distract from the flow.
  • Periodically, use check questions to make sure you're both still on the same page. "Did I hear you correctly that [conclusion you're testing]?"

Prepare sales Q&A as thoughtfully as you prepare depositions or any other interaction you have while practicing law.

What questioning strategies have served you well in your own sales efforts? Please share them in the Comment section.

Mike O'Horo

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