Questions are the precision tools of the communication world. When you are connecting with someone on a personal or professional level, knowing what type of questions to ask can help you establish rapport and learn more about the person with whom you are speaking. In terms of sales skills, understanding the different types of questions helps you plan your interactions better, so you can connect with your customer and gather the information you need, while avoiding wasting their time and yours. Here’s an overview of the types of questions you should have in your sales skills toolbox.
Open-ended questions are made to encourage full, meaningful answers from the subject’s point of view. They often begin with the words “Who,” “What,” “How,” or “Tell me about.” Open-ended questions can be used to gain information from a customer before you offer solutions and value propositions. As a listener, it’s important that you listen not only to the words in the customer’s answer, but the meaning behind them. Be aware that questions beginning with “Why” have the potential for putting the other person on the defensive, and may not be effective at eliciting important information.
Tie-down questions can help establish you and your customer as partners, and they encourage the customer to move along in the conversation with you. Tie-down questions are those small questions at the beginning or end of a statement, such as, “Keeping up with all this new technology can be a challenge, can’t it?” They tend to elicit agreement, and get the customer used to saying, “Yes.”
You don’t, however, want to use more than a couple of tie-down questions in a row, because then they sound more like a script or a technique than genuine attempts to gain information. They’re best used when reinforcing benefits, and should be used before you share your value proposition with your customer.
Choice questions are just what they say: questions that give customers options from which to choose. They can be valuable when customers aren’t sure what they need, or when they need a gentle prompt to make a decision. With choice questions, it’s best if you limit the choices to two or three – any more can be overwhelming or confusing. For example, “Do you prefer to take delivery by the first of the month, or the fifteenth?” offers the customer a reasonable number of choices, both of which are positive, and demonstrates that you care about their needs.
Value questions are important in your sales skills repertoire, because they help the buyer quantify benefits. This sets you up to offer a solution that creates your unique value proposition. Value questions should be posed after the buyer has identified a problem (“It takes too long to do inventory.”) With value questions, you can help the customer understand the value attached to the solution you offer, but it’s important that before asking, you have an idea what you can do in terms of quantifiable results. An example value question might be, “What would it be worth to your profitability if you could reduce the time it takes to conduct inventory audits by 20%?”
Reverse questions refers to answering a question with another relevant question, and they’re perfect when closing a sale. Knowing when to use reverse questions should be one of your practiced sales skills. Typically, they work well in answer to general questions, and open up possibilities that can close the sale on a positive note. Suppose your customer has committed to buying your product and asks, “Can I get it in blue?” Your reverse question can increase his satisfaction further. You could say, “What shade of blue do you like?” A good reverse question can be the perfect punctuation to closing the sale and gaining commitment.
The ability to ask the right questions in the right context is one of the strongest sales skills you can have. Asking questions not only lets you uncover the information you need to create a solution and value proposition for your customer, but also establishes rapport and builds relationships. There are many types of questions, and knowing when to use which one is like being a master carpenter who always knows the right tool for the job.
With CSC‘s consultative sales certifications, you will learn among other things how to use questions to establish and deepen customer relationships, and which questions are well-suited to which situations. More importantly, CSC offers you the personal coaching you need to actually practice these critical sales skills, so they become a natural part of your expertise. The result is greater personal success as a sales professional, improved success for your organization, and delighted customers.
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