Here’s an exercise you can use to come up with useful sales probing questions. Think of one of your current customers and brainstorm the potential problems/issues they might have (and the opportunities they would like to realise). Choose areas you know your product or service can help solve. Make a list of them.
Since questions not reasons are your main persuasive skill, rotate these statements into questions. These are your initial probing questions.
As an example, imagine you sell mobile high-output projectors for use with notebook computers and ipads. Now ask yourself:
What problems does this product solve?
- Projected images being washed out by high ambient light.
- Lightweight so salespeople less likely to leave it behind.
- Very silent fan so no distractions.
Then rotate these into questions:
- ‘Do you have any difficulties with projected images being washed out by high ambient light?’
- ‘How do you feel about your salespeople using projectors at every opportunity to build professional image?’
- ‘Do your people have any concerns about distractions caused by noisy cooling fans?’
Rotating benefit statements into questions is easy once you get the hang of it.
If the customer expresses interest in any of these areas run with that; otherwise go on to the next question. Keep in mind that you have a twofold objective:
- To find out what they are doing now.
- To find out what they are not 100 per cent happy with.
Three types of sales probing question
To support the above approach there are three general questions that are useful in helping to seek out gaps. Use your own judgement about which questions you feel comfortable with. If you feel at ease, your customer will too. Just keep in mind that your task is to find out what gaps exist in the areas where you can help. Use a conversational style, be respectful and build trust by remembering that your role is as a business consultant with the customer’s interests at heart.
1. ‘What concerns do you have?’
Not only is this a good question to ask when you are with the customer, but it’s a good way to prepare for the meeting. Think of a sales interview you have coming up in the next few days and ask yourself: ‘What concerns will be on the mind of this customer?’
Variants of this question include:
- What’s the biggest challenge you face in …?
- What has been your experience with …?
- What two things matter most to you?
- What does value look like to you?
What are the stretch goals for the business?
In addition, when you are very familiar with your customer’s marketplace and know the problems they encounter, you can begin probing for concerns with insight questions such as: ‘It often happens in this industry that x occurs. Is that the case here?’
2. ‘If you had a free hand to make any improvement you wanted, what would it be?’
This question, known as the magic wand or superprobe, is very useful for uncovering gaps or wish lists with which you can subsequently work. Use it when the customer says, ‘We are quite happy with our present supplier.’
Another brilliant question you can ask in this situation is: ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would consider using a new supplier?’
As a sales training provider, we often speak to prospective clients who say, ‘We are quite happy with our internal training arrangements.’ Our sales team know that’s a cue to reply, ‘Fine, I can understand that. Can I ask you, are there any circumstances in which you would consider using an external provider?’
In most cases, the customer will then indicate what requirements or wishes they have that are not currently being met. That’s how the sale begins.
3. ‘If there is one thing preventing you from achieving your growth objectives, what is it?’
Known as the chokepoint concept, this question probes for what is holding results back. It is a useful technique that focuses the customer’s mind.
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