Asking Questions: The 50% of Effective Questioning That No One Talks About

Throughout my career in sales and consulting with global organizations on sales effectiveness, I’ve always been fascinated with questions. I’ve read all the books on questioning, attended programs and taught programs.

However, they all have one common critical fault; they only present half of the picture.

While reviewing a significant and competitive sales opportunity with a client recently, it became apparent that they had made a very common and damaging mistake – when you ask a question during the customer’s buying process, is as important as the question itself.

Let me give you an example. We all know that to increase our probability of winning, we need to understand the client’s decision-making process, i.e. how are they going to make the decision, who is involved, what is the criteria, is this budgeted, etc. Asking a customer to define their decision-making process is a very appropriate question, but, only early in the customer’s buying process; they expect this question and view it as a reasonable and fair question. However, asking the question “is this budgeted?” or “who all is involved in the decision?” when the customer is in the final stages of their decision-making process shows a lack of planning, salesmanship and professionalism.

Impact. After months of pursuing this critical sale, my client didn’t know the customer’s decision-making process, among other basic pieces of information. Asking the customer for their decision-making process at this point of their buying process would not only show a lack of professionalism, but it’s also too late in the process to do anything strategic with the information.

There are also questions that are appropriate for the end of the customer’s buying process. For example, “when we first started talking you were seeking 3 outcomes, (outcome 1, outcome 2 & outcome 3), How have these evolved through your evaluation process?

What to do? Review your sales process and the questions you and your team typically ask, list them on a timeline of the typical customer’s buying process. Early in their process you have license to ask essentially any question, conversely, towards the end of their process, you do not have the license to ask many questions. Take advantage this opportunity to ask the customer essentially anything early in their buying process.

It’s a simple exercise that will increase your sales effectiveness immediately!