Essential to a successful negotiation is a well-planned questioning technique; its purpose is to identify the real needs of the buyer and position you as a supplier who best understands their requirements, thereby improving your chances of winning the order at attractive terms. The two most commonly used techniques for questioning are:
Open-ended questions are those that begin with words like, what, why, which, where, when, how, who. They can only be answered with a flow of information. They are therefore most useful in the earlier stages of an interview or where the conversation is about extracting information from the other side.
Closed or dead ended questions are those, which are capable of being answered with yes or no, or a flow of conversation that says in fact, little more than yes or no. They are most useful in the later stages of an interview when the salesperson needs to control the conversation on closing the details and avoid opening up wider issues. They are also useful as questions where the buyer does not need to be encouraged to give information, but the salesperson needs to control the direction and progress of the conversation.
The Platformax way of questioning
I have coached numerous sales executive and managers on the process of selling, and over the years I have refined the process of questioning and I tend to take the questioning process forward in this pattern.
Most salespersons start with asking background or situational questions, to understand the customer, his business details, etc. Poor salespeople jump the gun after asking these questions by making a big assumption – if this is the situation the client is in, this is what they need, frequently the customer comes back and says no.
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Background or situational questions need to be asked but try to limit them to the main items of clarification, which you should have already researched before entering into the sales call. Then quickly move the questioning to the priorities and problems being faced by the buyer. For example give an interim summary of your understanding of the background situation and then continue by saying
So, what you are saying is…
So, what will be your priorities over the next year?
What then do you see as the problems you will face?
It is the answers to these questions that will cause the buyer to state his needs, rather than you assuming or guessing them. You could say
So, what you are saying is…
To avoid these implications from happening, you need to …
What do you need to do to avoid these implications?
The answer will be stated needs, not implied or assumed needs.
Advantages of using the Platformax way
A buyer may not be clear about his real needs; this process will help them clarify their real needs. If at the end of the process, you are still fumbling to understood the buyers needs correctly, you can go back to the process to seek clarification and then come back to restate the requirements. For example
Buyer – “No, that’s not what I need.”
Seller – “ I am sorry if I misunderstood you. What are your priorities?”
Buyer – “ What I wanted to say was…….”
And the conversation can progress to a restatement and agreement on real needs. In addition to this use open and close-ended questions as and when you feel appropriate to build on the conversation depth.
So go ahead and try this technique, by using a structured questioning technique, you will be able to increase your sales velocity and be a happy camper like me.