How many times have you heard some of these sayings?

Questions make the difference. The questions are the answers. The answers are in the questions. So on, so forth. There are so many cliches and sayings around asking questions in sales, I could fill up a whole book with them.

What questions do we ask and why? Do we ask questions we already know the answers to as a way to manage/lead the conversation, or do we ask open ended questions in order to get our prospects to share information we need to determine a fit?

If you listen to an average conversation between two people, especially in a sales or negotiating setting, you will often hear the questioning come from a place of seeking to confirm something, rather than disprove it. That’s a failure of Habit 5 (Seek first to understand, then to be understood) but it is also a failure of basic scientific methodology. If every question I ask seeks to PROVE that my product/service is a fit, then confirmation bias is going to ensure two things.

– I will see and focus on answers that confirm a fit.

– I will create an environment where the prospect feels more and more pressured to agree and hence becomes more defensive and less likely to speak honestly.

Proper scientific method dictates that once a theory is formed, the research is aimed at DISPROVING the theory. Only with a lack of success in finding evidence that disproves your theory do you solidify its assumptions and move towards proving it.

Aside from basic information questions (How long have you been in business? What’s your budget? etc), your sales questions should be slightly aimed at disqualifying your prospects from your solution or company. The undertone or theme of the conversation and questions should be “Let’s see why this might not work” versus “Let’s see if we can make this work”. That is a completely different type of conversation. The efficacy of the needs assessment increases exponentially when this happens. We get real answers, not guarded partial statements. This approach also has the benefit of not making prospects defensive. They don’t feel pressured. They feel empowered to work on the questions with you.

Here is how to apply this concept. Audit all the questions you typically ask prospects before you present. Break them up into 4 buckets.

– Informational questions – basic data

– Observational questions –  How they see things

– Objective questions – What are they trying to accomplish

– Obstacle questions – What has stopped them from accomplishing this in the past

Now rewrite the questions so that your intent on each of them is to identify why they would not be able to benefit from your product. For example, on basic data questions. If using your solution requires a certain tech stack, ask them early about their tech capabilities. Disqualify early and often. 

That approach will quickly give you everything you need to decide if it makes sense to present to this client. And your default assumption should be that it does not make sense, unless you are not able to prove that. The reason for that is that most prospects are not viable. The quicker you identify them, the more time you have to spend with the viable prospects in your pipeline.